Written By Hudson Crozier
What’s happening: A judge temporarily blocked numerous federal agencies and employees from instructing social media platforms to censor speech, dealing a semi-victory to Republican officials who sued them last year. The ruling in Missouri v. Biden forbids the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Justice Department, the FBI, several White House officials, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and more from contacting the companies about restricting certain content.
Yes, but: While the ruling is a step in the right direction against government censorship, Louisiana District Judge Terry Doughty also included a list of instances when the government may continue to coordinate with Big Tech companies, including notifying companies about threats to national security, criminal efforts to suppress voting, “malicious” activity, and foreign attempts to influence elections. Social media companies notably censored the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 after the government lied to them about its supposed foreign election interference.
Why it matters: The ruling is still a legal win. Judge Doughty technically blocked the government from telling social media companies explicitly to censor content that is deemed legal under the First Amendment. He also strongly indicated that he considers the government’s actions unconstitutional, hurting the Biden administration’s odds of winning the case.
What the government did: Emails and texts show that officials pressured employees at Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram about censorship constantly, hosting routine meetings, scrutinizing the efficiency of “misinformation” policies, and accusing employees of harming the public if they didn’t censor enough vaccine-related content. Federal agencies worked with universities and nonprofits to report thousands of posts for social media platforms to suppress.
- Judge Doughty blocked government communication with these private entities, which are being sued for this censorship activity in a separate case.
Looking ahead: Doughty says the plaintiffs will “likely” prove that the government violated the First Amendment and that it may have committed “viewpoint discrimination” by targeting mostly right-leaning content. The Biden administration is shifting the blame by claiming that it does not force the companies to censor and that the employees are the final decision makers. The government is appealing the ruling.