On Tuesday, numerous liberal activists, Twitter personalities, and even some progressive media outlets criticized the Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis for signing House Bill 233 into law, falsely claiming that the GOP governor was now requiring professors and students to register their political views with the state. They accuse him of being “authoritarian” and attacking free speech. The truth, of course, is very different from those alarmist attacks.
The media frenzy came from a passage of House Bill 233 authorizing the State’s Board of Education to require each college in the Florida College System to “conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution”, the survey should be “objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid” and will measure if students and faculty feel “free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classrooms.”
In other words, the law will only require Florida’s universities to conduct a survey, something that is not abnormal in universities across the country. Some liberal outlets and personalities, however, portrayed the bill in a much more sinister light.
No, DeSantis is not ordering massive ideological surveillance of Florida colleges
An article in Slate made a misleading characterization of the bill signed by DeSantis, saying that the law could “wreak havoc on the freedom of speech and academic freedom” of universities in Florida, further saying that these colleges had their state funding “at stake”, despite acknowledging later in the article that such a threat was never stated in the law. Salon also published a similar story, repeating the lie that the state universities would lose funding if the responses from the survey are “not satisfactory to the Republican-led legislature.”
"*" indicates required fields
These talking points were heavily repeated by liberal media personalities across Twitter, despite being debunked as “false” by PolitiFact. USA Today Domestic Security Journalist Josh Meyer said that the governor signed a bill “requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with the State” and quoted the Salon article. A prolific author and Twitter user, Stephen King, also parroted the false talking point, and was joined by former Senator and current MSNBC analyst Claire McCaskill spread the same false claims, saying the bill was an “autocratic, freedom squashing, government overreach.”
This is, of course, a complete lie and a gross misinterpretation of the actual text of the bill. The bill never uses the word “compulsory”, “mandatory”, “registered”, or even “ideology” when describing the annual survey. Hence, the claim that DeSantis is imposing an ideological state registry akin to those in authoritarian states does not have any basis on the actual text of the bill. The interim communications director of the Florida Department of Education said that the surveys will be voluntary and will not ask for political ideologies, the survey will ask whether they can freely express their political viewpoints in the classrooms.
The other part of the claim, that the universities could lose state funds if the results from the surveys are deemed not acceptable by the State Legislature, is nowhere to be found in the text of the bill that was signed into law. The law does not set any penalties for universities that “fail” the survey, it does not even say that colleges would fail the study, it only asks the Board of Governors of each college to publish the report by September 1st of each year.
In remarks to El American Christina Pushaw, the Press Secretary of the governor, strongly rebuked the claims, saying that “Liberal Twitter is wrong again” and clarifying that “the viewpoint diversity surveys are anonymous, voluntary, and no personal information is collected by them at all – only feedback on the intellectual freedom of the campus environment, which is what the survey was designed to determine.” Pushaw said the goal of the surveys is to “ensure that no one feels as though a political ideology is being forced on them in higher education, from any angle.”
Despite the articles being clearly wrong and deemed false, neither Salon nor Slate have issued corrections or taken down the articles from their websites. Officials from the State of Florida have contacted the writer of the article to clarify the content of the law and to ask for a correction, yet no changes have been made.