If you were hoping the long running Donald Trump / Twitter saga was over, I have bad news. The former president has filed suit in Florida seeking a preliminary injunction of the ban, while he works towards having his account permanently reinstated. Trump is arguing, as expected, that the ban violates his First Amendment rights, but also Florida’s new social media law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year — though courts have stopped the law from taking effect on the grounds that it likely violates free speech laws.
The suit makes many predictable arguments that Twitter is “a major avenue of public discourse” and that it “exercises a degree of power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented, and profoundly dangerous to open democratic debate.”
Of course, Trump’s ban on Twitter (as well as countless other social media platforms like Facebook and Snap) follows years of his flaunting the rules. The former president’s tweets were a frequent source of controversy, not just because he often used them to bully political opponents and announce personnel changes (before those involved knew), but because he also shared a constant stream of misinformation, racist content and encouraged violence.
After years of outcry from the public over their refusal to enforce their own rules against the then president’s accounts, Twitter and Facebook slowly started to crack down, labeling many of his tweets as potentially misleading — especially around COVID-19 and the election results. Things came to a head following the attempted insurrection on January 6 in which the former president encouraged his followers to storm the Capitol in an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
Trump’s latest lawsuit claims that even the labeling of his tweets as “misleading” qualifies as a form of censorship — even though those obviously and intentionally false tweets were allowed to stay up on the site.
The new suit cites a law passed in Florida this May that would prevent social media sites from “knowingly” deplatforming politicians (of course, with a Disney-sized loophole baked in). The law would have allowed the state’s Election Commission to fine social media companies $250,000 a day for takedowns involving public office candidates. It also allows residents to sue the companies if they feel they’ve been treated “unfairly”, which is almost certainly legally vague. And lastly it would require that social media companies detail how bans are decided and enforce its policies consistently.
In July however a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction noting that the law potentially violated the free speech rights of private companies which have their own terms of service and standards for hosting content.
Since Florida’s law has not taken effect — and there’s a very good chance it never will — it’s not clear how successful Trump’s strategy will be.
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