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DeSantis team hits back at media figures’ debunked claim of students registering political views with state

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office is pushing back on a false claim about a new state law that Twitter users, including author Stephen King and several journalists with large followings, have been spreading, despite it being debunked a year ago.

The law, which calls for “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at state colleges, says schools in the Florida College System must conduct an annual survey of “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” and students, faculty and others “feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”

The narrative that King and others pushed on Twitter went a bit further.

“DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state,” King tweeted.

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That notion appears to reflect a 2021 Salon article with that exact headline that was published after the governor first signed the bill into law. DeSantis deputy press secretary Bryan Griffin told Fox News that this is a misrepresentation of what the law really says.

“No, students and faculty are not required to ‘register their political views,'” Griffin said. “This same fake claim was circling the liberal Twittersphere after the bill was signed in 2021. It was debunked then. It has been debunked again, now.”

That debunking included a Politifact report from June 2021 that said the bill does not require anyone to register their viewpoints. On Wednesday. DeSantis’s office confirmed that there is no registration involved.

“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,” Griffin said.

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Yet despite the registration claim not being supported by the bill’s text and being proven false more than a year ago, Stephen King was far from the only one to repeat it this week. 

USA Today domestic security correspondent Josh Meyer, MSNBC columnist Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and University of Miami professor and MSNBC analyst Fernand Amandi all spread the claim Wednesday morning, with Meyer and Amandi both sharing the same 2021 Salon article.

Also spreading the Salon article was Democratic former local New York legislator Jon Cooper, who boasts more than 1 million Twitter followers, including White House chief of staff Ron Klain. Democratic California state Sen. Scott Wiener also shared it, with a comment that included another famous misrepresentation of a Florida law.

“Apparently the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law wasn’t enough GOP punishment of speech it doesn’t like. Now the FL GOP is requiring professors/students to register their viewpoints with the state,” Wiener tweeted.

As for how a claim that was proven false a year ago could come back now in attacks against DeSantis, the governor’s office blamed the political climate.

“We believe it has a lot to do with blinding partisan hatred that eclipses the facts,” Griffin said.

Ironically, the repetition of a false narrative deals with a law specifically meant to keep one side from dominating discourse.

“I think that having intellectual diversity is something that’s very, very important as we go forward,” DeSantis said when he signed the bill. “And I know a lot of parents, one of the things they worry about, if you send a kid to a university, are they just going to basically be indoctrinated? Or are they actually going to be taught to think for themselves, challenge assumptions, and really be critical thinkers and learners? We obviously want our universities to be focused on critical thinking, academic rigor. We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology.”

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