Judge limits Biden admin.'s collaboration with social media companies amid censorship claims

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge has temporarily restricted the ability of the Biden administration to collaborate with social media platforms to combat what the government considers misinformation amid complaints the collaboration went too far to censor politically unfavorable posts and content. 

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee, granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday in State of Missouri et al v. Joe Biden et al, a case brought by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri.

While the case continues, Doughty blocked Biden administration officials from "meeting with 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 posted on social-media platforms."

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Additionally, the administration officials were prohibited from "emailing, calling, sending letters, texting, or engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech."

The judge also stopped the administration from working alongside the "Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, the Stanford Internet Observatory, or any like project or group for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content posted with social-media companies containing protected free speech."

According to the injunction, the restrictions will not include situations such as "informing social-media companies of postings involving criminal activity or criminal conspiracies," "contacting and/or notifying social-media companies of national security threats, extortion, or other threats posted on its platform" and "informing social-media companies of threats that threaten the public safety or security of the United States."

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey took to Twitter to celebrate the injunction, declaring, "What a way to celebrate Independence Day."

"The federal government cannot be trusted to protect Americans' rights, which is precisely why our Founders enshrined the First Amendment into the Constitution," he tweeted.

"My office is doing everything it can to protect Missourians' right to free speech from the largest First Amendment violation in American history. … This injunction is a huge win in the fight to defend our most fundamental freedoms."

An unnamed White House official told The Washington Post that the U.S. Department of Justice was "reviewing the court's injunction and will evaluate its options in this case."

"This Administration has promoted responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our elections," stated the White House spokesperson.

"Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present."

The Biden administration has faced allegations that it has worked with major social media outlets to censor conservative viewpoints and news that portrays the president's family in a negative light.

These have included claims that the government collaborated with Twitter and Facebook to suppress opposing views on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, a theory that COVID-19 was leaked from a lab in China and negative news centered on Biden's son Hunter and his foreign dealings. 

In May 2022, Missouri and Louisiana sued the Biden administration, arguing that the federal government "threatened and cajoled social-media platforms for years to censor viewpoints and speakers disfavored by the Left."

"As a direct result of these actions, there has been an unprecedented rise of censorship and suppression of free speech — including core political speech — on social-media platforms," reads the 2022 lawsuit.

"Not just fringe views, but perfectly legitimate, responsible viewpoints and speakers have been unlawfully and unconstitutionally silenced in the modern public square. These actions gravely threaten the fundamental right of free speech and free discourse for virtually all citizens in Missouri, Louisiana, and America, both on social media and elsewhere."  

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