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Florida officials are frustrated with social media's content moderation policies

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022 that he plans to petition the state's Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate “any and all wrongdoing” with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines.
John Locher
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AP
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022 that he plans to petition the Florida Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate “any and all wrongdoing” with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines.

Attempts at regulating social media have been a recurring theme for the Florida legislature.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a controversial bill late Friday restricting kids under the age of 16 from accessing social media. It comes the same week the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to existing laws in Florida and Texas that blocked social media companies from limiting adult speech on their platforms.

Both moves are part of growing frustration with social media companies to regulate themselves properly.

“You have the United States government in there supporting the big tech companies, fighting against Florida," state Attorney General Ashley Moody said Monday following oral arguments in one of the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alleged Online Censorship?
The Supreme Court heard a complaint against Florida and Texas that stems from a 2021 law that restricts companies like Facebook and Instagram from having the power to pick which user content they promote.

DeSantis said that year he believed politicians were being “shadow banned” and “censored” for simply expressing their political views. He also stated it was part of a "political agenda" to keep Democrats in office.

“We are protecting Floridians' ability to speak and express their opinions," said DeSantis. "This will lead to more speech, not less speech.”

Florida has carried its feud with social media companies into this year
Instead of the attention being on political freedom, it’s now geared towards protecting the mental health of children. The proposal, HB 1, effectively bans minors under 16 from social media platforms and it’s spearheaded by Florida House Speaker Paul Renner.

“We need to take a close look at the consequences of social media," said Renner. "As well as the far too easy access for young kids and I mean like six years old, to access hardcore pornography. The rules for adults are for adults, but for kids, that’s not appropriate.”

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, opens a Special Session, on Dec. 12, 2022, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Renner announced Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, that one of his priorities during the legislative session that begins in March will be to expand a school voucher program for special needs students. (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)
Phil Sears/AP
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FR170567 AP
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, opens a Special Session, on Dec. 12, 2022, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Renner announced Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, that one of his priorities during the legislative session that begins in March will be to expand a school voucher program for special needs students. (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)

Renner’s attempts haven’t exactly gone smoothly. Opponents, most prominently Gov. DeSantis, have fretted about the lack of parental input in the bill. The measure didn't give parents a say in whether their children could use the platforms.

“As much as I think it’s harmful to have people on these social media platforms for five or six hours a day, a parent can supervise a kid to use it more sparingly,” the governor explained.

How far can governments go in regulating private social media companies?
DeSantis has vetoed HB 1 and now lawmakers are trying to rework it but even as they do a big issue hangs over both the U.S. Supreme Court and the State of Florida—is it possible to regulate social media companies which are effectively, private entities?

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor thinks Florida is pushing its limits.

“At what point does a law become so generalized?" Sotomayor asked Florida Solicitor General Henry Whitaker during Monday's argument. "The law is broad and unspecific, you bare the burden of coming in and telling us exactly what the sweep is."

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.