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Florida petitions Supreme Court in fight with big tech over social media access rules

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Florida is urging the Supreme Court to intervene in the state’s dispute with big tech companies over how social media platforms may restrict or bar people and content online, teeing up a major legal battle over free speech rights in the digital age.  

Republican Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that blocked a Sunshine State law which would have prevented social media companies from banning candidates and removing content. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided in May that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook likely had a First Amendment right to decide what ran on their platforms and kept in place a federal court ruling blocking the enactment of some of the law’s provisions. 

Ms. Moody petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the lower courts’ actions. She also pressed the justices to answer whether the Constitution prevents states from forcing social media companies to host content and stops states from forcing tech platforms to explain their censorship decisions. 

“Under the Eleventh Circuit’s reasoning, social-media behemoths have a First Amendment right to cut any person out of the modern town square, for any reason, even when they do not follow their own rules or otherwise act in bad faith,” Ms. Moody wrote in a petition filed Wednesday. “That ruling strips states of their historic power to protect their citizens’ access to information, implicating questions of nationwide importance.”

Tech trade groups challenging Florida’s law are welcoming the high court showdown. 

NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo said his trade group agrees that the Supreme Court should hear Florida’s case and he said his team is confident it will prevail. His organization published Ms. Moody’s petition on its website. The tech firms argue in essence they should not be forced to put on their sites posts that violate their terms of service and guidelines.

“We look forward to seeing Florida in court and having the lower court’s decision upheld,” Mr. Szabo said in a statement. “We have the Constitution and over a century of precedent on our side.”

Ms. Moody also cited a split among federal appeals courts over cases involving social media content moderation in petitioning the Supreme Court to take up her case now. The Florida attorney general noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of a similar Texas law and rejected the argument that companies have a constitutional right to restrict speech on their online platforms. 

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