Updated May 8, 2022: Clarified that the government is not one of the entities being sued in this story
By Hudson Crozier
What’s new: A lawsuit alleges that multiple universities and nonprofits violated the First Amendment by working with the federal Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency to flag social media posts on election integrity and COVID-19 vaccines for platforms to censor. The lawsuit, filed by right-leaning organizations in a Louisiana district court, significantly challenges the constitutionality of the federal government’s involvement in the suppression of online speech.
Catch up: CISA was formed in 2018 to strengthen the federal government's cybersecurity protection and was specifically tasked with improving election security. The Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) was formed in 2020 as a partnership between major nongovernment entities to monitor misinformation about the election. It later expanded its focus to include the pandemic. The EIP flagged thousands of online posts for social media platforms to censor.
The allegations: The lawsuit points out that CISA funded one of the EIP nonprofits involved in flagging election-related posts in 2020. It also includes quotes showing that CISA helped form the idea for the EIP before it launched and that four Stanford students involved were CISA interns. It claims that CISA, a government agency, essentially created the EIP to move part of the censorship apparatus outside the government.
The lawsuit notes that the EIP boasted of “unit[ing] government, academia, civil society, and industry … to address misinformation in real time” and that this collaboration later continued with vaccine-related censorship.
Why it matters: It’s undeniable that federal bureaucrats used private entities to try to get around the Constitution in their efforts to suppress online speech. A research manager at one EIP organization even admitted that these activities face “very real First Amendment questions.” CISA now claims it no longer tells platforms what to censor amid Republican backlash. The Louisiana court will decide in this case—and a similar one—whether this collaboration between the government and the private sector violates the First Amendment as Americans’ free speech rights hang in the balance.