It’s not as if Florida is the first state to believe that it can exercise its authority to tell the internet how to behave. California was there long before Governor Ron DeSantis even thought he had the power to proclaim himself the ruler of the web. But he’s on top of it now.
.@GovRonDeSantis: "Under our proposal, if a technology company de-platforms a candidate for elected office in Florida during an election that company will face a daily fine of $100k until the candidate's access to the platform is restored." 3/ pic.twitter.com/jCceBB8zsk
— The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 (@ColumbiaBugle) February 2, 2021
Can he do this? Can he do any of this? No, of course not. It makes as much sense as requiring anyone putting up a lawn sign for a candidate to put up a lawn sign for the other candidate. Private companies can’t be compelled to allow anyone access to their platform that they don’t want to.
If this unfair to candidates who are refused access? You bet. Social media is, without a doubt, an extremely important and valuable medium for political recognition. While it’s not legally the public square, it is functionally a critical place where the people are. Whether it will continue to be in the future remains a mystery at the moment, but it is now.
The problem is that DeSantis’ idea of fining social media if they deplatform candidates for office is flagrantly unconstitutional. It’s also functionally problematic. If Florida wants to fine Twitter, it can get hashed out in court for the next decade or Twitter can just pull up stakes and make itself scarce in Florida. How long would Florida guys go without their beloved social media before sending DeSantis a ticket to northern Georgia?
This is not to suggest the return to the days of usurping private enterprise for the public weal, when shopping malls were deemed quasi-public property by deliberately turning their private property into the new Main Street for the benefit of cash flow without the responsibility of public access. But a candidate for office who gets “disappeared” on social media is at a huge disadvantage in getting her message out. It may well be a terrible message, but that’s the nature of a democracy, where people can run for office, and vote for candidates, even if Zuck or Jack don’t care for them.
What’s a state to do? Not this, but what? Florida may not be constitutionally capable of compelling internet companies to do as it demands upon pain of fines, but what does that mean for the candidate running against the tide?