Biden administration agencies and top officials have been stopped by a federal judge not to communicate with social media companies. This is a victory for Republican-led states who sued the government, alleging that it was trying to censor free speech by pressuring social media companies to remove content about COVID-19.
The judge’s ruling is a significant setback for the Biden administration’s efforts to combat COVID-19 disinformation. It remains to be seen whether the government will appeal the ruling.
Tuesday’s ruling by a federal judge handed a victory to Republican states in a case charging the government of going too far in its efforts to battle COVID-19 misinformation. The judge ordered some Biden administration departments and top officials not to interact with social media sites about particular content.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty has ordered several federal departments and top officials not to contact social media companies to have content containing protected free speech removed from the sites.
According to the injunction, the government can still contact the businesses in an effort to stop criminal activities and deal with concerns about national security.
Doughty has prohibited agencies and officials from contacting social media companies to remove content that is protected by the First Amendment. This includes specifically flagging content, urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing social media companies to remove the content.
Trump appointee Doughty stated in the lawsuit that social media corporations “include Facebook/Meta, Twitter, YouTube/Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, and TikTok,” in addition to a variety of other online platforms.
According to a White House representative, the Justice Department is “reviewing the court’s injunction and will evaluate its options in this case.”
“Our steadfast belief is that social media platforms have a critical obligation to consider the implications of their platforms on the American people while making independent decisions about the material they present,” the White House representative said.
The attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri took a novel approach to pursuing “censorship” claims that the Biden administration effectively silenced conservatives by relying on for-profit social media corporations in their 2022 lawsuit.
Although Doughty hasn’t yet made a decision on the merits of the two states’ arguments, his order on Tuesday marks their biggest win so far in the ongoing legal battle. The administration was previously required by the judge to submit records identifying government employees and the nature of their communications with social media sites.