How the Florida GOP accidentally attacked Disney in its quest to get Trump back on Twitter

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Florida Republicans added a last-minute amendment exempting the media giant from legislation that would fine tech companies for banning public officials who violate their rules.

Florida Republicans were forced to amend a bill at the last minute on Thursday that would fine companies for banning users who violate their rules, in order to ensure Disney, a company responsible for contributing billions of dollars to the state's economy, was exempt from the legislation.

The legislation was first put forth by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican members of the Florida Legislature in February, following the decision by Twitter to permanently ban Donald Trump from its platform.

Lawmakers finalized and passed the bill on Thursday, sending it to DeSantis's desk.

Trump was banned from Twitter for inciting violence in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists. Prior to the insurrection, Trump had called on his supporters at a nearby rally to march on the building, in order to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory, and later did little to stop them, even encouraging them further in several tweets and video posts.

The Florida law attempts to impose fines on tech companies for taking such actions.

The legislation, which DeSantis has said is one of his top priorities, would prevent those companies from banning certain individuals, specifically public officials, even if those individuals have violated the terms of service they agreed to when signing up for the platform.

However, it could have had a detrimental impact on one of the state's biggest cash generators: Disney.

For example, if Disney were to remove a subscriber to its Disney+ streaming platform for posting a show review that violated its terms of use, it would be subject to a $10,000 per day fine, presumably until that person is reinstated.

The $10,000 per day fine applies only to general political candidates; fines would jump to $100,000 a day if the candidate is a statewide candidate for public office.

Florida state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R) rushed to add an amendment on Thursday before the bill passed, exempting companies like Disney from being subjected to its provisions.

The amendment states that the legislation applies to services that have at least 100 million users, but exempts "any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex."

These conditions directly apply to Disney, whose Disney+ streaming platform has over 100 million subscribers. Disney of course operates the Walt Disney World theme park, one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world.

"Clearly this was created for Disney+," Anna Eskamani, a Democratic state representative, tweeted Friday. "I assume theme parks saw this culture war agenda impacting their social media platforms and wanted out so they got a carve out! So now, if any social media company wants to avoid the impacts of this 'bill' they can just buy a theme park!"

Disney is vital to the Florida economy. In 2019, the Orlando Business Journal described it as "an industrial juggernaut that makes up Orlando's tourism industry."

The outlet also noted that Disney generates over $75 billion for Florida's economy per year, and tourism supports 41% of the Orlando region's workforce with more than 463,000 jobs. Before the pandemic, Disney alone had a workforce of over 77,000 in Florida.

In their rush to punish Twitter and other social media companies, Florida Republicans might have impacted a major employer within the state — one that has contributed in the past to Republican candidates, including DeSantis — had Thursday's amendment not been included.

Experts have criticized the legislation more broadly for running afoul of the First Amendment's free speech protections.

"Private actors cannot be compelled either to host certain speakers, or to privilege some forms of speech over others," write Corbin Barthold and Berin Szóka of the tech policy think tank TechFreedom. " This is even more true of political speech, which, contrary to DeSantis’s claims, the bill is likely to suppress."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.