After Monday’s post about Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill that would require bloggers critical of Florida officials to register with the state, a good friend and journalistic freedom fighter in that neck of the woods reached out to tell me this is just peanuts, compared to what else is being proposed:
Sadly, that’s just stupid. But this is downright dangerous: Another Florida bill seeks to overturn New York Times vs. Sullivan.Either bill, if passed, would face immediate court challenges.
The bill goes much further than this attempt to hobble the press. It makes it clear that the new defamation rules would also apply to any single “utterance on the internet,” which could mean a tweet or a Facebook post written by anyone, or “any one presentation to an audience,” which could include statements made at school board hearings and other public meetings.
In a direct attack on a key aspect of free expression, it says that whenever someone is accused of discriminating against others on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, that accusation is automatically considered enough to sue for defamation. Any person accused of bigotry based on sexual orientation or gender identity could file a defamation lawsuit and be virtually guaranteed of winning by saying the discrimination was based on personal religious or scientific beliefs. The penalty for calling someone a bigot would be a minimum of $35,000.
My friend noted a conversation with First Amendment advocates, who explained that media outlets have already heard that their libel insurance premiums could skyrocket or that the insurance could be canceled entirely. In my reading of the Times’ analysis, this thing would also likely turn every social media platform in to Libel-palooza, especially give way in which even the most careful among us do or say stuff online that could qualify as defamation.
And if you’ve spent 6 seconds on any social media platform, you know most folks are about as safe and careful as a drunk bomb-diffusing expert.
If you’re thinking, “Hey, this is just in Florida. I live in (fill in a more enlightened state that prizes free expression). Why should I care?” my buddy has a pretty solid answer:
Yeah, this is just Florida, and we’re a hot mess in a dumpster fire. But if these tactics work here, they’ll surely be exported to where you live.
- DeSantis signs this into law.
- First Amendment advocates will fight it.
- It will weave it’s way through the court system and eventually land in the Supreme Court of the United States.
- This SCOTUS has already demonstrated that the concept of “stare decisis” is soooo passe… Clarence Thomas already noted in a dissent that he wants to “revisit” the Sullivan decision. Although Brett Kavanaugh relied on Sullivan in prior rulings, I honestly don’t know if anyone know how this court will shake out on anything.
And that’s the goal: Take your shot while you have the odds in your favor in an attempt to kill something you don’t like and that prevents you from doing things you wouldn’t want other people to see.
This is one situation we all should keep an eye on.