By Nathalie Voit

A federal appeals court blocked the state of Florida on May 23 from enforcing a new law intended to punish social media companies for silencing political candidates and moderating political content on their platforms.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled unanimously on Monday that the Sunshine State’s social media law amounted to a violation of constitutionally-protected free speech. The three-judge panel said the new law impeded the First Amendment rights of private persons to moderate and curate content on their platforms.

“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said in the 67-page opinion. “We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects.”

The all-Republican panel said that the platforms’ “content-moderation” decisions are “protected exercises of editorial judgment” and that any attempt to infringe on large platforms’ ability to engage in content moderation would unconstitutionally burden that prerogative.

“Social-media platforms exercise editorial judgment that is inherently expressive. When platforms choose to remove users or posts, deprioritize content in viewers’ feeds or search results, or sanction breaches of their community standards, they engage in First-Amendment-protected activity,” Newsom wrote for the court.

Apart from a few of the law’s “less burdensome” provisions, the court rejected nearly all of the bill’s mandates. The panel noted that the companies were entitled to a preliminary injunction against most of the measures in the Florida bill.

The ruling was in response to Senate Bill 7072, signed into law by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 24.

This is the second time the Florida “social media law” has been blocked by a federal judge.

“The legislation compels providers to host speech that violates their standards—speech they otherwise would not host—and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would,” U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote for a federal court last summer.

The Tallahassee-based judge granted a preliminary injunction against the law hours before the legislation was slated to take effect.