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Judge limits government contact with social media platforms

Jul 05, 2023

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A federal judge has issued a ruling that prohibits the Biden administration from contacting social media companies. The move is an effort to prevent certain federal agencies from pressuring the platforms to remove, delete or suppress online content.

The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led states of Missouri and Louisiana, alleging that the White House had exceeded its authority in censoring content related to COVID-19 vaccines and posts suggesting election fraud.

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty stated that the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI and other government agencies are not permitted to collaborate with social media giants like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to suppress freedom of speech.

The Trump-appointed judge blocked certain officials from contacting or meeting with social media firms for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing “in any manner” the removal, deletion, suppression or reduction of content containing protected free speech posted online.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’” Doughty wrote in his 155-page opinion.

The lawsuit raised concerns over potential infringement on free speech rights, particularly regarding the government’s involvement in shaping online discourse and content moderation. This suit also brought forth allegations that the Biden administration had gone too far in its attempts to regulate and control online content, especially content related to COVID-19 vaccines and claims of election fraud.

“Attorneys general have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content,” Doughty said in the injunction Tuesday, July 4.

He has yet to produce a final ruling in the case.

In a statement, a White House official said the Department of Justice is reviewing the injunction and will evaluate its options.

The official said the Biden administration has promoted responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic. The official also argued that social media platforms have a responsibility to the American public and must make independent choices about the information they present.

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KARAH RUCKER: A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS ISSUED A RULING THAT PROHIBITS THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION FROM CONTACTING SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES. THE MOVE IS AN EFFORT TO PREVENT CERTAIN FEDERAL AGENCIES FROM PRESSURING THESE PLATFORMS TO REMOVE, DELETE, OR SUPPRESS ONLINE CONTENT. THE RULING WAS MADE IN RESPONSE TO A LAWSUIT FILED BY THE REPUBLICAN-LED STATES OF MISSOURI AND LOUISIANA, ALLEGING THAT THE WHITE HOUSE HAD EXCEEDED ITS AUTHORITY IN CENSORING CONTENT RELATED TO COVID-19 VACCINES AND POSTS SUGGESTING ELECTION FRAUD.

IN THE RULING, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE TERRY DOUGHTY STATED THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, THE FBI, AND OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES ARE NOT PERMITTED TO COLLABORATE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA GIANTS LIKE TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, AND FACEBOOK TO SUPPRESS FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

THE TRUMP-APPOINTED JUDGE BLOCKED CERTAIN OFFICIALS FROM CONTACTING OR MEETING WITH SOCIAL MEDIA FIRMS FOR THE PURPOSE OF URGING, ENCOURAGING, PRESSURING, OR INDUCING “IN ANY MANNER” THE REMOVAL, DELETION, SUPPRESSION, OR REDUCTION OF CONTENT CONTAINING PROTECTED FREE SPEECH POSTED ONLINE.

“DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, A PERIOD PERHAPS BEST CHARACTERIZED BY WIDESPREAD DOUBT AND UNCERTAINTY, THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT SEEMS TO HAVE ASSUMED A ROLE SIMILAR TO AN ORWELLIAN ‘MINISTRY OF TRUTH,’” DOUGHTY WROTE IN HIS 155-PAGE OPINION.

THE LAWSUIT RAISED CONCERNS OVER POTENTIAL INFRINGEMENT ON FREE SPEECH RIGHTS, PARTICULARLY REGARDING THE GOVERNMENT’S INVOLVEMENT IN SHAPING ONLINE DISCOURSE AND CONTENT MODERATION. THIS SUIT ALSO BROUGHT FORTH ALLEGATIONS THAT THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION HAD GONE TOO FAR IN ITS ATTEMPTS TO REGULATE AND CONTROL ONLINE CONTENT, ESPECIALLY CONTENT RELATED TO COVID-19 VACCINES AND CLAIMS OF ELECTION FRAUD.

“ATTORNEYS GENERAL HAVE PRODUCED EVIDENCE OF A MASSIVE EFFORT BY DEFENDANTS, FROM THE WHITE HOUSE TO FEDERAL AGENCIES, TO SUPPRESS SPEECH BASED ON ITS CONTENT,” SAID DOUGHTY IN THE INJUNCTION TUESDAY. HE HAS YET TO PRODUCE A FINAL RULING IN THE CASE.

IN A STATEMENT, A WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL SAID THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE IS REVIEWING THE INJUNCTION AND WILL EVALUATE ITS OPTIONS. SAYING THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION HAS PROMOTED RESPONSIBLE ACTIONS TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, AND SECURITY WHEN CONFRONTED BY CHALLENGES LIKE A DEADLY PANDEMIC. AND THAT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC AND MUST MAKE INDEPENDENT CHOICES ABOUT THE INFORMATION THEY PRESENT.