A federal judge in Louisiana issued a broad injunction Tuesday limiting federal government contact with social media sites over what the Biden administration may see as disinformation spreading out of control.
The ruling is one of many upcoming that frame a fight over the constitutionality of curbing social media’s influence in light of the First Amendment’s right to freedom of expression.
Judge’s blocks federal government contact with social media sites in free-speech fight
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty’s 155-page ruling uses an injunction to block certain federal agencies and White House officials from contacting social media sites with the aim of censoring political views and other protected speech that appears on them, The Wall Street Journal and other outlets reported.
It’s a big case among several upcoming that could curb government influence over content on sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others.
The injunction comes in response to a lawsuit, Missouri v. Biden. In it, the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, among others, allege a “federal censorship enterprise” puts pressure on social media companies to get rid of certain viewpoints, such as free speech related to election results, COVID-19 pandemic health policies, alleged misdeeds by Hunter Biden and more.
‘An Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth”
“[T]he evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario,” Doughty wrote. “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 said the plaintiffs “have presented substantial evidence in support of their claims that they were the victims of a far-reaching and widespread censorship campaign.”
The Justice Department declined to comment, but The New York Times cited an anonymous White House official who said: “Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present.”
Is all government engagement ‘censorship?’
And the Times also quoted expert Jameel Jaffer, who serves as executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
“It can’t be that the government violates the First Amendment simply by engaging with the platforms about their content-moderation decisions and policies,” Jaffer said. “If that’s what the court is saying here, it’s a pretty radical proposition that isn’t supported by the case law.”