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Federal Judge Issues Injunction Restricting Biden Administration’s Communication with Social Media Companies on “Protected Speech

In a significant ruling on Tuesday, a federal judge in Louisiana issued an injunction that restricts parts of the Biden administration from communicating with social media companies regarding “protected speech.” The ruling emerged from litigation originally filed by former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and was hailed as a “blow to censorship” by one of the Republican officials involved in the lawsuit.[0]

Judge Terry A. Doughty, a Trump appointee, wrote in the injunction that there was evidence of a massive effort by the Biden administration to suppress speech based on its content.[0] The judge's order prohibits Biden administration officials from meeting, communicating, or pressuring social media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce content containing protected free speech. However, the order does allow for exceptions in cases involving national security threats and criminal activity.[1]

The White House responded to the ruling by stating that the Justice Department is reviewing the decision and evaluating its options.[2] A spokesperson for the White House emphasized that the administration has promoted responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security.[3] They also reiterated their belief that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to consider the impact of their platforms on the American people while making independent choices about the information they present.[4]

Judge Doughty's ruling highlighted concerns about the government assuming a role similar to an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” during the COVID-19 pandemic.[5] The judge's opinion, which spanned 155 pages, raised questions about the alleged attack against free speech and the government's disregard for the First Amendment's right to free speech.

The lawsuit brought forth by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri accused the Biden administration of engaging in a campaign of censorship.[6] They alleged that the administration coordinated and colluded with social media platforms to identify and suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content.[7] The attorneys general claimed that the administration encouraged social media companies to crack down on misinformation related to COVID-19 and elections, leading to egregious violations of the First Amendment.[8]

The ruling is not a final decision on the lawsuit and can be appealed by the Biden administration.[9] The case represents a novel way to pursue censorship claims, accusing the administration of effectively silencing conservatives by pressuring private social media companies.

The explosion of social media platforms has raised unique free speech issues, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.[10] If the allegations made by the plaintiffs are true, this case could involve the most massive attack against free speech in U.S. history.[11] The lawsuit argues that the federal government, particularly the defendants named in the case, disregarded the First Amendment's right to free speech in their efforts to suppress alleged disinformation.[11]

The injunction bars several federal officials and agencies from contacting or working with social media companies regarding posts protected by the First Amendment.[4] This includes officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the FBI.[1] The ruling was celebrated by Republican officials, who called it a victory for the First Amendment.[0]

Despite the injunction, government agencies are still allowed to communicate with social media companies regarding crimes, national security threats, and foreign attempts to influence elections.[12] The ruling does not prevent these communications in cases that involve criminal activities or threats to national security.[8]

Overall, the ruling represents a significant development in the ongoing debate surrounding free speech on social media platforms. It highlights the tension between the government's responsibility to protect public health and security and the need to uphold the First Amendment's right to free speech. As the case progresses, it will likely have far-reaching implications for the relationship between government agencies and social media companies in regulating content.

0. “Judge limits Biden administration contact with social media platforms in censorship case • Missouri Independent” Missouri Independent, 4 Jul. 2023, https://missouriindependent.com/briefs/judge-limits-biden-administration-contact-with-social-media-platforms-in-censorship-case/

1. “Biden officials blocked from colluding with Big Tech in major censorship case: Judge” Washington Examiner, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/white-house/judge-blocks-biden-officials-collude-big-tech-censorship

2. “Federal judge blocks Biden administration officials from communicating with social media companies – KION546” KION, 5 Jul. 2023, https://kion546.com/news/2023/07/04/federal-judge-blocks-biden-administration-officials-from-communicating-with-social-media-companies

3. “Judge limits Biden administration in working with social media companies” Toledo Blade, 5 Jul. 2023, https://www.toledoblade.com/business/technology/2023/07/04/judge-limits-biden-administration-social-media-companies/stories/20230704137

4. “US Judge blocks Biden officials from contacting social media sites” The Verge, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.theverge.com/2023/7/4/23783822/free-speech-ruling-missouri-v-biden-dhs-fbi-cisa

5. “Biden likely violated First Amendment during COVID-19 pandemic, federal judge says” Yahoo Life, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/biden-likely-violated-first-amendment-201130698.html

6. “Federal judge blocks Biden administration officials from communicating with social media companies” KVOA Tucson News, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.kvoa.com/federal-judge-blocks-biden-administration-officials-from-communicating-with-social-media-companies/article_fd7abb2c-4454-526c-ba68-a4760489270f.html

7. “Federal judge limits Biden administration contact with social media platforms” Yahoo! Voices, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/news/federal-judge-limits-biden-administration-194450454.html

8. “U.S. government officials blocked from most contacts with social media sites” The Week, 4 Jul. 2023, https://theweek.com/social-media/1024773/judge-limits-how-biden-officials-can-communicate-with-social-media-companies

9. “Judge limits Biden administration contact with social media firms” Yahoo Entertainment, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/judge-limits-biden-administration-contact-180939384.html

10. “July 4 Injunction Bars Various Federal Departments from Encouraging Social Media Platforms to Delete Content” Reason, 4 Jul. 2023, https://reason.com/volokh/2023/07/04/july-4-injunction-bars-various-federal-departments-from-encouraging-social-media-platforms-to-delete-content/

11. “Biden Administration Ordered to Limit Social Media Contacts” Yahoo Finance, 4 Jul. 2023, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/biden-administration-ordered-limit-social-225017251.html

12. “Judge bars government agencies, social media companies from discussing certain content” UPI News, 4 Jul. 2023, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2023/07/04/federal-judge-social-media-government-agencies-content/8351688510640