TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to advance Senate Bill 1780 (SB 1780), which would make it easier for public officials to bring defamation lawsuits for damages against their critics effectively chilling the speech of individuals and entities that are critical of public officials.
They also passed Senate Bill 1788 (SB 1788), which would require all users, including adults, to verify their age by providing a photo ID or other age verification documentation before using existing social media accounts or creating new ones. It prohibits minors under the age of 16 from creating social media accounts on certain platforms and deletes any existing accounts, regardless of whether a minor’s parent consents to their children using such platforms.
The ACLU of Florida opposes this bill and their respective House companion bills, House Bill 757 and House Bill 1.
Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida, responded to the passage of these bills with the following:
“SB 1780 seeks to undermine decades of Supreme Court precedence and infringe upon the free speech rights of those who criticize or comment on public officials and speak out on matters of public importance. Freedom of speech and a free press are the hallmarks of a healthy democracy.
“This bill threatens both these freedoms by weakening state laws that have long protected journalists and citizens alike from frivolous lawsuits, and it will put journalists in the position of needing to out their trusted sources or face liability.
“Among other things, this bill would chill the speech of journalists as well as members of the public who criticize public officials, expand the tort of defamation to include a single utterance on the internet, and make it easier for public officials to prevail in defamation actions by no longer requiring proof of actual malice.
“The overly broad and vague language of this bill does not limit the legislation simply to journalists and the media. Private citizens who speak out on social media could be caught up in defamation lawsuits.
“SB 1788 is a government censorship bill aimed at stifling freedom of expression online by requiring all users, including adults, to verify their age by providing a photo ID or other age verification documentation before using existing social media accounts or creating new ones.
“This bill prohibits minors under the age of 16 from creating social media accounts on certain platforms and deletes any existing accounts, regardless of whether a minor’s parent consents to their children using such platforms.
"Banning young people under 16 from having social media accounts even with the consent of their parents shows that the claim of ‘parents’ rights’ of the last two legislative sessions had nothing to do with parental rights and everything to do with government censorship of viewpoints and information the government doesn’t like.
“The internet, including social media platforms, contains vast amounts of constitutionally protected speech for both adults and minors.
“Age-verification requirements place barriers between users, whether they’re adults or minors, and their constitutional right to speak online. Age verification requirements also blatantly chill the speech and threaten the privacy of adults by requiring them to surrender their anonymity to engage in constitutionally protected speech. The government shouldn’t be controlling what ideas and information parents can allow their children to access.”
“A free society is one in which there is freedom of speech and both of these censorship bills threaten the very core of our democracy.”