Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
— Steve’s Marketplace —
Ron DeSantis views censorship like he does an untoward water-management board or biased election officials.
DeSantis has a distaste for all of them. And he aims to cleanse the pallet of any wrongdoing.
Among his first acts as Florida governor, DeSantis unseated the South Florida Water Management District board over irregularities and discharged two embattled supervisors of elections (both in South Florida). And he is now setting the state’s sights on the conduct of the five technology titans — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter.
This week DeSantis and other top Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would combat “censorship” by these major technology companies. The bill calls for $100,000-a-day fines for technology companies that de-platform political candidates. Additionally, favoring a particular candidate would be considered a campaign contribution.
The bill also enhances the rights and protections of individual users. It would allow users to opt out of algorithms and to sue technology companies for infringements. The bill must be approved by the Florida Legislature, which meets in March/April. It would then become law.
“We think this is something that Floridians want protection from, and I think it will end up being a really good first step,” DeSantis says. “A lot of us have thought there was something wrong for a long time, but to sit back and hope it gets better, that clearly wasn’t going to work.”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls is among the Republican leaders pushing the legislation. Sprowls contends that “social media has become the town square where people go to share their ideas and share their beliefs.”
However, the “five families of big tech” have engaged in censorship through “shadow-banning with secret algorithms that are not disclosed to the public,” Sprowls says.
Sprowls added that these major technology players “want to pick and choose which ideas they like, and which political views they like, and they can use them with impunity.” This means that sites like Twitter and Facebook can restrict a politician they don’t agree with (such as Donald Trump). Or block the activities of a business over its owner’s views.
Previously, states did not have a formal mechanism to fight back. Now they would. As an example, the proposed law permits the state attorney general to sue a technology company under the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Sprowls thinks the message is loud, clear. “If you try to shut down speech, if you try to shut down commerce, we’re going to come with the force of the law to push back,” he says.
DeSantis is also concerned about the role of these sites in politics. He admonishes them as the “big tech cartel.” Twitter’s ban on Trump will be permanent, and Twitter-foe Parler has been riddled by coordinated shots from the other tech giants. Parler is still not in operation.
“These platforms have played an increasingly decisive role in elections,” DeSantis says. “The sites manipulate the news content and design algorithms that favor the candidates of their choice.”
DeSantis is taking a bold, publicized stand on this contentious issue, as a prominent leader of the Republican party. “Until someone leads, no one does anything,” DeSantis says.
Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, All About Money, of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].