US Judge blocks Biden officials from contacting social media sites

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A US federal judge ruled that a slew of Biden administration officials are prohibited from contacting social media companies about moderating posts protected by the First Amendment.

Judge Terry A. Doughty wrote in a 155-page memorandum ruling that he believes the plaintiffs are likely to prove that federal government officials are targeting and suppressing “millions of protected free speech postings by American citizens.”


The Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition. Opposition to COVID-19 vaccines; opposition to COVID-19 masking and lockdowns; opposition to the lab-leak theory of COVID-19; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden’s policies; statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was true; and opposition to policies of the government officials in power. All were suppressed. It is quite telling that each example or category of suppressed speech was conservative in nature. This targeted suppression of conservative ideas is a perfect example of viewpoint discrimination of political speech. American citizens have the right to engage in free debate about the significant issues affecting the country.

As the Washington Post reports, Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri suing President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, claim that “starting in 2017 — four years before Biden was president — officials within the government began laying the groundwork for a ‘systemic and systematic campaign’ to control speech on social media.”

The New York Times cites Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, responding to the ruling saying, “It can’t be that the government violates the First Amendment simply by engaging with the platforms about their content-moderation decisions and policies… If that’s what the court is saying here, it’s a pretty radical proposition that isn’t supported by the case law.”

The NYT also has a statement from an unnamed White House official saying, “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,” and notes that the Justice Department is reviewing the ruling while evaluating its next steps.

The injunction bars people like DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) leader Jen Easterly, and FBI Foreign Influence Task Force leader Laura Dehmlow, as well as employees of those agencies and several others, from contacting, working with, or asking social media companies about posts protected by the First Amendment.

Exceptions listed include:

  • Posts about criminal activity or criminal conspiracies
  • National security threats
  • Threats to election security
  • Permissible public government speech promoting government policies or views on matters of public concern
  • Public safety threats
  • Efforts to detect, prevent, or mitigate malicious cyber activity

Those named in the suit are also barred from working with academic groups that focus on social media, like the Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, and the Stanford Internet Observatory.

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