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In a significant development, a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction restricting the Biden administration’s contact with social media companies, following legal challenges raised by two Republican state attorneys general. The move comes as they question the legality of the administration’s efforts to combat the spread of disinformation.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, who was appointed by former President Trump, granted the injunction, preventing a range of officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the FBI from engaging in communication with social media platforms.
The attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri have filed a lawsuit against the administration, alleging a “campaign of censorship.” They claim that the Biden administration coordinated and colluded with social media platforms to target specific speakers, viewpoints, and content deemed unfavorable. Their argument centers around violations of the First Amendment, as they contend that public and private communications between administration officials and social media companies regarding the removal of COVID-19 vaccine-related content, public health measures, election integrity, and other subjects infringe upon free speech.
The lawsuit further cites the Biden campaign’s and subsequent administration’s calls, along with Democratic lawmakers, to reform Section 230, which grants social media companies immunity from liability for third-party content posted on their platforms. Such actions are characterized as “threats” and a “campaign of pressure.”
Additionally, the attorneys general highlight the administration’s collaborative efforts with social media companies to combat COVID-19 and election disinformation, which they argue constitutes “collusion.”
As part of the injunction, the Biden administration officials are prohibited from engaging in email correspondence, phone calls, letter exchanges, text communications, or meetings with social media platforms with the aim of persuading, encouraging, pressuring, or in any way inducing the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech on these platforms, as ruled by Judge Doughty.
However, the injunction does not restrict the administration from communicating with the platforms concerning criminal activity, national security threats, public safety concerns, or posts that deliberately mislead voters about voting requirements and procedures.
This legal development sets the stage for further scrutiny of the delicate balance between combating disinformation and safeguarding freedom of speech, with potential implications for future policy discussions and regulatory reforms regarding social media platforms.