U.S. Appeals Court Limits Government Communication with Social Media on Content Moderation
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has restricted the manner in which the Biden administration can liaise with tech giants like Facebook and Twitter. This move comes after concerns that the government was infringing on the First Amendment by pressuring these platforms to moderate or remove specific content, especially regarding COVID-19 and the 2020 elections.
🚨🚨🚨 A bombshell ruling by the 5th circuit court today, finding the Biden White House, the FBI and the CDC violated the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans…— 🌟🇺🇸Nancy Hamm🇺🇸🌟 (@nancy_hamm1) September 9, 2023
The court, comprising of all GOP-appointed judges, emphasized that the Biden administration’s interactions with these companies seemed to transgress First Amendment rights. The judges stated, “The officials have engaged in a broad pressure campaign designed to coerce social-media companies into suppressing speakers, viewpoints, and content disfavored by the government.”
This injunction initially encompassed multiple federal departments such as the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services. However, the current order narrows its focus to the White House, the surgeon general, the CDC, and the FBI.
The backdrop of this lawsuit, initiated by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, is a long-standing Republican grievance that social media platforms allegedly censor conservative views. They argue that the Biden administration is unduly influencing these platforms to suppress free speech, especially concerning vaccine hesitancy.
This case gains significance in light of allegations against social media companies of moderating content post the 2016 election and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The era saw a proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories, prompting these platforms to adopt a more vigilant stance on content moderation.
Judge Terry Doughty had earlier issued an expansive injunction, preventing numerous federal entities from certain types of communication with social media platforms. The Biden administration lawyers contended that Doughty’s injunction was too sweeping, hindering the government’s pivotal role in addressing public welfare threats.
David Greene, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, commented that the new injunction is considerably better than Doughty’s original one. This ruling, by Judges Edith Brown Clement, Don R. Willett, and Jennifer Walker Elrod, could redefine the dynamics between the government, the public, and social media platforms.
The implications of this judgment could be far-reaching, especially with the 2024 elections on the horizon. The case highlights the growing conservative efforts to curtail collaboration between the government and tech platforms. The decision has been celebrated by conservatives, but it has also been met with caution, as it merges diverse forms of government communication without acknowledging the nuances.
Stanford Law School professor Daphne Keller pointed out that the court’s decision seems to allow regular communications unless they become unduly influential or controlling of the platform’s content decisions.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey welcomed the decision, stating, “The first brick was laid in the wall of separation between tech and state on July 4. Today’s ruling is yet another brick.”
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