State Senator Joe Gruters invited a Florida congressional candidate who’s been banned from most social media sites to speak alongside him as he rolled out a new bill he says fights censorship.
“I’m the most censored person in this country – I’m literally banned on every single social media site simply for posting my political speech,” said Laura Loomer, who was at the Capitol Tuesday to back Gruters’ bill. “I’m a Florida resident, I’m a Florida business owner, and I’m also running for congress in Florida’s 21st congressional district as a Republican.”
Loomer, before she launched a congressional bid in South Florida, was banned from every major social media platform. The companies cited hate speech policies in removing her profile – which prompted the now-26-year-old to go as far as handcuffing herself to a Twitter office building in New York. She fundamentally disagrees with the concept.
“There isn’t any such thing as hate speech, really, when you get down to it,” Loomer told WFSU. “There’s hate crimes, which have always existed, but hate speech and hate crimes are not the same thing. And you can’t just go around and shut everybody down who you disagree with politically and brand them as a hater or a bigot and accuse them of posting hate speech.”
The tweet that Loomer says got her banned from Twitter was one in which she wrote Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is “pro-Sharia,” referencing Sharia Law, a set of religious laws found in Islam. It also called Omar “anti-Jewish.”
Now, Florida GOP chairman and state senator Joe Gruters is looking to introduce cause of action, allowing users to sue the tech companies for censoring political or religious speech. He’s calling it the “Stop Social Media Censorship Act.”
“This bill was written to protect the public,” Gruters said, flanked by Republican colleagues. “The basis of this bill is the free exercise clause of the first amendment.”
Though Gruters touts the proposal as one to protect the broader public, during a press conference to roll out the legislation he characterized the censorship as being concentrated toward conservatives.
Here’s how Gruters says the bill works:
“The act allows both liberal and conservative citizens to share their religious and political views, by holding the major social media websites to a higher standard of care through carving out a special cause of action. The act allows the victim to seek statutory damages of $75,000.”
Gruters says until now, lawsuits against social media companies have been largely frivolous.
“Right now, you may be able to have a cause and sue, but there’s no foundation in place to be able to allow them to go and really sue, make it worthwhile for the attorneys to take these tech giants on,” Gruters told reporters. “So that’s why that $75,000 number is so important, to get into the federal courts and allow those attorneys’ fees to be recovered.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment. The argument used most frequently against legislation putting mandates on social media companies is that they draw up their own terms of service. Gruters says it’s a different ballgame when the public square goes digital:
“The question is, what is the public square and what is freedom of speech? Once you hit over 75,000,000 subscribers, you’ve basically created – and they knowingly created – a digital public square,” Gruters said.
The bill would only apply to adults – tech giants could continue to ban minors at will. And it wouldn’t apply if someone’s post includes calls for “immediate acts of violence.”
Republican Representative Randy Fine stood alongside Gruters and Loomer to back the proposal. He says like many politicians; social media is a primary means of communicating with his constituents.
“I would say in my own experiences as an elected official, Facebook is the primary way I can get messages to my constituents,” Fine said. “We live in a world where mainstream conservatives are banned on Facebook, but in my case, Facebook allows people to make cartoons where I’m reduced to an insect as a Jew – it calls Jews insects.”
Gruters says some of those updates, like those from law enforcement, can be crucial and no one in the public should be barred from seeing them:
“What gives the big tech (companies) the authority to determine who gets to receive emergency updates, and who gets access to emergency shelters.”
Meanwhile Loomer, like Fine and Gruters, says social media companies are enacting a “double standard” when they use censorship.
“We see that a lot of conservatives are having this issue right now where they feel they are being discriminated against and we are witnessing this double standard of the twitter and Facebook terms of service, where if you’re a conservative you can get shut down,” Loomer said.
Yet, it’s not only mainstream conservatives who have gotten the boot from major social media platforms. One example is in 2019, the Florida-based Krassenstein Brothers, Ed and Brian, were kicked off Twitter for using fake accounts.
Other states around the country have introduced legislation similar to Gruters’.