from the foia-for-the-win dept
It’s been almost exactly a year since Florida
Man Governor, Ron DeSantis announced plans to try to pass a law that would ban social media websites from taking down misinformation, abuse, and other types of speech. When the final bill came out, at the very last minute, Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia tried to sneak in an amendment that carved out Disney, by saying the law didn’t apply to any company that owned a theme park. This took other legislators by surprise, as indicated in this somewhat incredible video of Florida Reps. Anna Eskamani and Andrew Learned confronting Ingoglia over this amendment and what it meant:
In that video, Ingoglia flat out admits that the goal was to try to carve Disney+ out of the definition of a “social media provider.” He says they looked at other possible language changes and adding the “theme park” exemption was just the easiest way to exclude Disney. Of course, that never made any sense. In the video he says, repeatedly, that this is to protect “reviews” on Disney+, which is weird because Disney+ doesn’t have reviews. He also tries to make weird distinctions between Disney and Netflix which suggests a really confused understanding of Section 230 and how it interacts with first party and third party content. Amusingly, Eskamani points out at one point that Disney owns other websites — like ESPN.com — and asks if they, too, would be exempted from the bill, and Ingoglia responds in the most inane way possible: “as long as they follow their policies, everything should be fine.” Which… makes no sense and didn’t answer the question.
Either way, the bill has since (rightly) been declared unconstitutional (though Florida is appealing), and the issue of the theme park exemption was mostly a sideshow in the ruling.
However, it still left many people scratching their heads as to how that came about — including intrepid reporter Jason Garcia, who filed some freedom of information requests with the Governor’s office to see if he could find out the backstory behind the Disney theme park exemption… and, let me tell you, he hit pay dirt. The emails reveal quite a lot. And, as Garcia notes:
Ron DeSantis? willingness to give Disney an incoherent carveout from this bill raises real questions about whether the governor really cared about cracking down on Big Tech ? or whether he just cared about making voters think he?d cracked down on Big Tech.
But more telling is the finding that the “amendment” appeared to come directly from Disney. The governor’s legislative affairs director, Stephanie Kopelousos, emailed staffers in the Florida House to call her, and then 21 minutes later, emailed them the theme park amendment, with the subject line: “New Disney language.” And, just to underline the fact that Kopelousos was corresponding with Disney folks, when some House staffers pushed back on some ideas this happened:
In one email to the other governor?s office and House staffers, Kopelousos sent a proposal under the subject line, ?Latest from Disney.? A few hours later, after other staffers expressed concern that idea was too broad, she sent in another attempt, which she explained with the note, ?Disney responded with this.?
At one point, Disney, through Kopelousos, suggested carving out “journalism” organizations (as if Disney is a journalism organization). That created something of a mess:
An hour later, Kopelousos emailed a third possibility. The subject line was ?New Disney language,? and the language, she told the others, came ?From Adam,? presumably a reference to a Disney lobbyist named Adam Babington.
?So Disney is a journalistic enterprise now?? Kurt Hamon, the staff director for the House Commerce Committee, wrote in response to of the company?s ideas. ?I would say no to this one too…why would we [exempt] journalism enterprises? Would Google, Facebook and Twitter qualify as a journalistic enterprise??
?If they have a problem with Kurt?s narrow suggestion, then they are probably doing or seeking to do more than they have indicated,? James Utheier, who was DeSantis? general counsel and is now the governor?s chief of staff, wrote in response to another.
Basically, it appears that Disney kept trying to carve itself out and, as Ingoglia more or less admitted, with the clock ticking down on the Florida legislative session, most of Disney’s own suggestions were ridiculous — so the nonsense “theme park exemption” became the easiest to carve out Disney.
Some of these emails are hilarious.
I mean, this isn’t a surprise, but it just confirms what was obvious all along. DeSantis proposed this dumb idea, and his minions in the legislature ran with it, without bothering to think through basically any of the consequences of the bill (let alone the constitutional problems with it). And then just as they were about to pass it, a Disney lobbyist realized “shit, we have websites too…” and demanded a carve out.
This is not how law-making is supposed to be done, but it sure is how law-making often is done. It sure shows the kind of soft corruption of the system, in which a large company in the state, like Disney, get to write themselves out of bills.
For what it’s worth, Garcia also notes that the Senate companion to the House bill sailed through… basically because Florida state Senator Ray Rodriques flat out lied about it when questioned. He noted that the House had passed a similar bill to one they had passed, noting “the House placed some amendments on it.” He then describes the other amendments the House added (which made the bill even dumber, but whatever) and then skips right over the Disney exemption. So then the Senate President asks the Senate to approve the Disney Amendment without anyone even saying what it was. Another state Senator, Perry Thurston, jumps in to ask what’s in the amendment.
The Senate President, Wilton Simpson, says: “Senator Rodrigues explained the amendment. The amendment that he explained was this amendment.”
Except, that’s not true. At all. Rodrigues skipped right over the theme park amendment. And… then the Senate just voted to allow the amendment without ever actually saying what it did. In some ways, this is even more embarrassing than the Eskamani/Learned/Ingoglia discussion in the House. At least they were able to discuss the Disney exemption in the open and admit to what it did. Rodriguez just flat tried to ignore it to get it included…
And people wonder why the public doesn’t trust politicians? Perhaps this cronyism and nonsense is why…