with Aaron Schaffer

A pair of industry groups is suing to stop a Florida law that would open social media companies up to fines and lawsuits over their content moderation decisions. 

Netchoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represent companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon, yesterday filed a lawsuit that calls the new state law “so rife with fundamental infirmities that it appears to have been enacted without any regard for the Constitution.” The law is scheduled to take effect on July 1, and the groups are planning to also soon file an injunction to ensure that it can’t be enforced. 

The suit officially kicks off a legal battle that has been widely anticipated since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the social media bill into law earlier this week. DeSantis, a potential 2024 Republican presidential contender, painted it as a stand against alleged censorship of conservative voices on social media. Tech companies have broadly denied such accusations, and legal experts have argued the measure runs afoul of the Constitution and other federal Internet law. 

The Florida law would impose fines on companies for deplatforming political candidates, and it would make it easier for both the state attorney general and individuals to bring lawsuits if they felt the companies were unfairly applying their content moderation policies. 

“U.S. free speech principles protect the public from government penalties for speech; they do not protect elected officials from the speech choices of the public,” said CIA President Matt Schruers in a statement. “Forcing a company to publish government officials’ speech is more characteristic of last-century dictatorships than 21st-century democracies.”

The stakes go beyond Florida. 

The tech industry groups are trying to squash the Florida law as Republicans push similar measures in other state legislatures across the country. A legal victory in the Sunshine State could send a warning to other states that such efforts are unconstitutional. 

The industry groups are also making the case that the Florida law could make it harder for tech companies to crackdown on harmful content. 

Tech companies have taken greater action against a wide range of potentially harmful -- yet legal -- forms of speech, ranging from pornography to hateful missives. The industry groups are arguing that the Florida bills and others like it could make it harder for them to do that in the future. 

“By constraining digital services’ ability to fight bad actors online, this law threatens to make the Internet a safe space for criminals, miscreants, and foreign agents, putting Floridians at risk,” Schruers said. 

Even if the companies are successful, the fact the bill was passed and signed signals conservatives’ attacks are escalating. 

The tech industry is at the center of Republicans’ political attacks on “cancel culture,” and the bill is widely seen as a response to the companies’ controversial decisions to suspend then President Donald Trump from their services in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks. However, even if the law was in effect then, the fines on the companies wouldn’t have applied because they only apply to political candidates actively running for office, which Trump was not doing at the time of the attack. 

Republicans have continued to accuse the companies of “censorship,” especially after the Facebook Oversight Board recently ruled to uphold Trump's suspension from that platform. The company is expected to soon respond to the board’s decision, which called on it to clarify whether the suspension would be temporary or permanent. 

The legal battle comes as the U.S. Congress is debating the future of social media regulation. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed legislation that would force tech companies to take greater responsibility for the content on their services and their content moderation decisions. However, it’s highly unlikely that any legislation similar to the Florida law would progress at the federal level, at least while the Democrats are in charge. President Biden recently rescinded a Trump era executive order that directed the Federal Communications Commission to review the scope of Section 230, a key Internet legal shield. 

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Social networks have gone too far in restricting pro-Palestinian posts and accounts, activists say. 

Some Facebook employees who are Arabic-speaking or have close ties to the conflict in the Middle East are now complaining of “over-enforcement” on the content. One group of 30 employees has filed at least 80 internal tickets to report “false positives” relating to the conflict, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Gerrit De Vynck report

Similar issues have occurred on Twitter, which locked hundreds of accounts after what it said was the mistaken identification of spam.

The problem comes after years of investment in automated software to detect problematic posts. Despite the investment, many of the systems aren’t sophisticated enough to discern the difference between desirable and dangerous speech. 

Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said its “policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps, and we apply these policies equally,” and Instagram apologized. Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said its enforcement was “more severe than intended under our policies,” and that Twitter reinstated the appropriate accounts. “Defending and respecting the voices of the people who use our service is one of our core values at Twitter,” she said.

A manhunt for an arson suspect highlights how far crime-tracking app Citizen will go to increase engagement.

Citizen CEO Andrew Frame saw a recent California fire as an opportunity to catch a suspected arsonist live online, proving the utility of his start-up to users, according to internal company notes obtained by Motherboard’s Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler. But the company instead launched a city-wide manhunt for an innocent man, highlighting how its goal of public service is at times in conflict with its business interests.

“It’s basically an anxiety sweatshop,” according to a Citizen source. “On days when things are 'slow,' they relax the standards around incidents because a dip in incident count is really bad,” and the company sends emails congratulating analysts who report the most incidents, another person said.

A Citizen spokesperson said its “vision is a global safety network of people protecting each othera world in which a kidnapping is impossible, because everyone is looking out for each other, and neighbors are alerted as soon as a kidnapping attempt is made.”

Google is nearing a deal to settle a French antitrust case over its advertising business.

The case, which alleges the tech giant used its position in the ad market to give its ad exchange a leg up, will probably end with Google paying a fine and agreeing to change how it operates in France, The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey report. It comes as the search giant faces antitrust scrutiny globally and is the target of a Justice Department competition lawsuit. 

The board of France's Competition Authority could reject the deal, under which Google does not accept or deny being culpable. If it is approved, it could be announced within weeks, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company declined to comment on the antitrust case, though a spokeswoman said that its “third-party ad tech products work with both our partners’ and our competitors’ products, including over 700 advertiser platforms and 80 publisher platforms,” and that the company continues to take in feedback and make updates to better serve users and the wider ecosystem.” 

Rant and rave

Amazon launched meditation rooms amid criticism of its treatment of warehouse workers, and the Internet reacted, well, how you would expect. Writer Talia Lavin:

Writer Rax King:

Tech reporter Tom Maxwell:

Reporter and writer Patrick Sisson:

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  • Keith Gabbard, the CEO of the Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative, discusses President Biden's broadband infrastructure plan at the Brookings Institution on June 2 at 2 p.m.

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