Gov. DeSantis Pushes Bill to Limit Defamation Standard and Censor Dissent

Since the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the “actual malice” standard has been at the center of defamation law.[0] This standard holds that public figures – famous people, elected officials, etc. – must prove publishers disseminated false information with knowledge of its falsity or with “reckless disregard” for the truth in order to win damages from a defamation case, rather than just proving that false information was published.[1]

Gov. Ron DeSantis has long been critical of the ruling, and now he is pushing for a bill that would make it easier for prominent people to sue media outlets for defamation.[2] The bill, which was filed by Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) on Monday, would limit the definition of a public figure to exclude people whose notoriety arises solely from defending themselves publicly against an accusation, granting an interview on a specific topic, public employment, or a video, image, or statement uploaded on the internet that has reached a broad audience.[3]

The bill would also challenge the precedent set by Sullivan by establishing that the “actual malice” standard will not be required to prove defamation in cases where the allegation does not relate to the reason for the person’s public status.[4] Additionally, the bill would allow a fact finder to infer actual malice when the defamatory allegation is fabricated by the defendant, is based on an “unverified anonymous” report, is “so inherently implausible” that a reckless person circulated it, or when there are “obvious reasons” to doubt the veracity of the defamatory allegation.

Critics of the bill argue that it would stifle investigative reporting by presuming statements attributed to anonymous sources to be false and by limiting how individuals can prove the truth of their claims. They are also concerned that if Sullivan is overturned, this could mark only the beginning of setting future precedents that would make the job of journalists even more difficult, thereby denying the public access to truthful and legitimate reporting.[5]

Proponents of the bill argue that it would make suing media outlets for defamation significantly easier, allowing a chance for individuals in the public eye to initiate legal action for coverage they deem to be false and damaging.[5]

Ultimately, the bill is a clear attempt by Gov. DeSantis to prioritize censoring dissent over governing. It would do nothing for ordinary Floridians, but would allow government officials and celebrities to harass and even bankrupt their critics with expensive litigation.[6]

0. “DeSantis-backed bill would make it easier to sue news media” Orlando Sentinel, 21 Feb. 2023,

1. “Those accused of discrimination would have new protections under Florida bill” Tampa Bay Times, 22 Feb. 2023,

2. “DeSantis-backed Bill Would Make It Easier To Sue News Media” Towleroad, 22 Feb. 2023,

3. “‘Gift to the Ruling Class’: Florida Bill Would Make It Easier for Officials Like DeSantis to Sue Critics” Common Dreams, 21 Feb. 2023,

4. “Ron DeSantis Wants To Rewrite Defamation Law” Reason, 22 Feb. 2023,

5. “Politics v. press: Why the world is closely watching renewed threat to landmark Supreme Court defamation case” Law & Crime, 20 Feb. 2023,

6. “Anti-press bill filed following DeSantis’ roundtable stunt” Freedom of the Press Foundation, 20 Feb. 2023,

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