A federal judge will decide whether President Joe Biden’s administration violated the First Amendment by censoring users on social media over topics like COVID and election security — and if so, what to do about it.
Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana brought the lawsuit last year, alleging that the Biden administration fostered a sprawling “federal censorship enterprise” that pressured social-media platforms to scrub away dissenting views, including criticism of mask mandates and objections to Covid-19 vaccination.
The Louisiana judge presiding over the case — former President Trump appointee Terry A. Doughty — is considering whether to intervene in communications between the US government and top social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, among others, court documents say.
In late March, Doughty refused to dismiss the suit, noting the free-speech claims were credible enough to move the case forward.
The case is among the most potentially consequential First Amendment battles pending in the courts, testing the limits on government policing of social-media content.
Doughty’s ruling will affect the state of Missouri and Louisiana’s preliminary injunction, which would prevent federal officials from “taking any steps to demand, urge, encourage, pressure, coerce, deceive, collude with or otherwise induce” social media platforms to censor disliked users, content and viewpoints, the complaint says.
Early on in the litigation, the judge permitted plaintiffs to gather evidence, like emails exchanged between White House officials and leadership at social media companies, according to The Journal.
Officials in Missouri and Louisiana were allowed to depose high-ranking government officials, including the face of America’s response to the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The lawsuit claims the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency colluded with social-media platforms “in hundreds of meetings about misinformation” and systematically flagged “huge quantities of First Amendment-protected speech to platforms for censorship,” The Journal reported.
The plaintiffs have cited many emails sent between the White House and social media executives, including one to Google employees in April 2021.
In the message, the White House’s then-director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, accused YouTube of “funneling” people into vaccine hesitancy, according to The Journal.
“This is concern that is shared at the highest (and I mean highest) levels of the WH [White House],” he penned in the email.
Representatives for Google, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
The Justice Department has filed a nearly 300-page brief denying the allegations, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“The record in this case shows that the Federal Government promoted necessary and responsible actions to protect public health, safety and security when confronted by a deadly pandemic and hostile foreign assaults on critical election infrastructure,” the DOJ said.
It also claimed that approving the injunction “would significantly hinder the Federal Government’s ability to combat foreign malign influence campaigns, prosecute crimes, protect the national security, and provide accurate information to the public on matters of grave public concern such as health care and election integrity.”
The lawsuit came after several high-profile politicians had their social media accounts suspended.
Trump was banned from Twitter following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. The app cited “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s account after purchasing the platform last October for $44 billion.
Also in 2021, prominent anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had his account yanked from Instagram. A spokesperson told The Post at the time the ban was triggered by “repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.”
It was reinstated two years later when Kennedy announced his White House bid.
Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had her Twitter account suspended in March for allegedly violating the social media’s misinformation policy on COVID-19.
Medical activists, independent journalists and conservative commentators who have been censored by popular social media platforms have also filed complaints. However, many lawsuits have been thrown out due to lack of evidence that social media companies were doing the government’s bidding, The Journal reported.
However, the Missouri v. Biden suit extends beyond censorship, and shows “a unique interest in advancing, protecting and vindicating the rights of their citizens who are listeners, readers and audiences of social media speech,” the suit says.
With Post wires
Source by [New York Post]