Quick Takes

Judge limits Biden administration contact with social media platforms in censorship case

By: - July 5, 2023 8:12 am

While Missouri and Louisiana filed the case, over the last year a number of additional plaintiffs were added who have run into issues with social media companies for spreading misinformation online (Getty Images).

A federal judge on Tuesday prohibited Biden administration officials from communicating with social media platforms about “protected speech,” a ruling emerging from litigation originally filed by former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

The ruling, by Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, granted a temporary injunction barring numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from contacting social media companies “for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

Federal agencies are still allowed to notify the companies about crimes, national security threats or foreign attempts to influence elections.

The litigation was filed last year by Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. It alleges the federal government colluded with social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to suppress the freedom of speech.

Doughty, a Trump-appointed judge, has not issued a final ruling but wrote that plaintiffs “have produced evidence of a massive effort by defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”

Government attorneys argued federal officials don’t have the authority to order content removed from social media platforms, accusing GOP attorneys general of misrepresenting communications with companies about public health disinformation and election conspiracies.

Schmitt, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, celebrated the injunction on Twitter, calling it a “big win for the First Amendment on this Independence Day.”

While Missouri and Louisiana filed the case, over the last year a number of additional plaintiffs were added who have run into issues with social media companies for spreading misinformation online.

That includes Jim Hoft, founder of the right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit, who was added to the lawsuit in August.

Hoft’s website has spread debunked conspiracies on a wide range of topics, from the 2018 Parkland school shooting to former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

More recently, Hoft has been among the biggest purveyors of election fraud lies. He currently faces defamation lawsuit in St. Louis circuit court filed by two Georgia election workers who faced death threatsfollowing Gateway Pundit’s false stories about a vote-rigging scheme.

Schmitt’s lawsuit also attracted support from high-profile leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, including now-presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

This article is republished from the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.