Consultation For Your Reputation

New Florida Legislation Could Make it Easier to Sue for Defamation

On Behalf of | Feb 29, 2024 | Firm News |

The state of Florida is attempting to change their defamation laws, and if passed, the changes would make it easier for public officials to bring defamation lawsuits against their critics, namely those in the media. The proposed HB 757 would reverse decades of Supreme Court precedent on defamation law, allowing lawsuits to be brought against nearly anyone who publishes criticism of a public official. The repercussions of passing such legislation could lead to a huge increase in defamation lawsuits and, ultimately, cost the state millions of dollars in legal fees.

Interestingly enough, similar legislation was proposed last year, but received push-back from politicians on both sides of the spectrum. As a result, the bill died. What will happen this round is anybody’s guess.

What Does HB 757 Propose?

HB 757 would create the presumption that anyone publishing a false statement relying on an anonymous source is acting with “actual malice”, which would, in turn, allow public figures to handily win defamation lawsuits.

HB 757 would also include the following:

  • Allowance for someone suing over statements published online to take their case to any county in Florida;
  • Allowance for someone to sue if content made or modified by AI could lead a “reasonable viewer” to believe something false about a person that is “highly offensive”; and
  • Requirement for publications to remove material judged false from the internet.

Not only would traditional media outlets face serious repercussions from this new law, should it pass, but so would newspapers, books, magazines, television, radio, and possibly even movies.

Anti-SLAPP Protections

To protect the constitutional right ensuring freedom of speech, many states have passed what are called anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws which allow a defendant to file a motion to strike or dismiss a lawsuit on the grounds that it involves protected speech on a matter of public concern.

Florida currently has two such anti-SLAPP laws: one protects homeowners from lawsuits by individuals, business, and government entities based on the homeowners’ “appearance and presentation before a governmental entity on matters related to the homeowners’ association.”

The state’s second anti-SLAPP provision prohibits lawsuits brought against individuals for exercising their right of free speech in connection with a public issue or their rights to peacefully assemble, to instruct representatives of government, or to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Anti-SLAPP laws were designed to prevent lawsuits from being filed simply because someone doesn’t like another’s speech. Though they may still afford some protection if the new legislation is passed, they would most likely be weakened because the standards of what constitutes defamation would subsequently be lowered.

Opposition to HB 757

While HB 757 certainly has its supporters, there are many on both sides of the political aisle who also oppose it. For example, both the Florida American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Prosperity—an unlikely combination—both oppose the set of bills, each citing that it would only serve to damage our right to free speech. In fact, a representative from the ACLU noted that the bill would specifically target longstanding First Amendment protections outlined in the Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan.

As it stands, Florida’s House Judiciary Committee has already approved the measure, and it is now on its way to the floor. Will HB 757 pass? That remains to be seen.

Paul M. Sternberg owns a private practice law firm in Houston, Texas. He concentrates his practice in the areas of internet defamation law as well as business law. Mr. Sternberg is a graduate from the A.B.Freeman School of Business at Tulane University in 1987, and a 1996 graduate from South Texas College of Law in Houston. Mr. Sternberg, a seasoned entrepreneur, is the author of SECTION 230, FREE SPEECH AND THE INTERNET. 10 years of experience on representing clients who have been the victims of defamatory cyber-attacks. Mr. Sternberg has developed a reliable blueprint in securing positive solutions in most cases. He has shared his professional knowledge with FOX NEWS and many other media outlets to discuss internet defamation. He is a frequent speaker to attorneys and community groups. He may be reached at or his office at 713-789-8120.