Judge Forbids Biden Admin from Contacting Social Media Platforms about Free Speech
On Independence Day, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction barring the Biden administration from directly communicating with social media platforms about “protected free speech.” Free speech advocates are seeing the ruling as a victory against the widespread censorship and deplatforming that have occurred on platforms like Twitter and Facebook in recent years.
In the ruling, Judge Terry A. Doughty wrote that it is unlawful for federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to contact 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.” He went on to describe how the case involves “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” that the Biden administration has “blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech,” and that the administration “almost exclusively targeted conservative speech.”
The extent to which the federal government has colluded with social media platforms to censor the free speech of Americans has been exhaustively catalogued. During a House Subcommittee hearing on the Weaponization of the Federal Government in March, Matt Taibbi, a former reporter for the left-wing Rolling Stone magazine, testified about the findings he gleaned from the “Twitter Files,” a massive trove of thousands of internal documents released by current Twitter owner Elon Musk following his acquisition of the social media giant in October of 2022.
“We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation requests from every corner of government, from the FBI, the DHS, the HHS, DOD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA,” Taibbi explained. “For every government agency scanning Twitter, there were perhaps 20 quasi-private entities doing the same thing, including Stanford’s Election Integrity Partnership, NewsGuard, the Global Disinformation Index, and many others — many taxpayer funded.”
Taibbi went on to detail how the mainstream media also participated in censorship.
“[I]nstead of investigating [government and non-governmental organizations], journalists partnered with them. If Twitter declined to remove an account right away, government agencies and NGOs would call reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets who in turn would call Twitter, demanding to know why action had not yet been taken. Effectively, news media became an arm of a state-sponsored thought policing system.”
In a press release announcing the court decision from Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who filed the motion in March with Louisiana AG Jeff Landry for a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration, the Missouri AG further catalogued some of Judge Doughty’s findings (here is a sampling):
- “At least 22 times, the White House engaged in ‘unrelenting pressure’ against tech companies. … ‘The White House Defendants made it very clear to social-media companies what they wanted suppressed and what they wanted amplified. Faced with unrelenting pressure from the most powerful office in the world, the social-media companies apparently complied.’”
- “Facebook noted that in response to White House demands, it was censoring, removing, and reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines ‘that does not contain actionable misinformation.’”
- “Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a ‘threat’ of ‘legal consequences’ to social media companies ‘if they do not censor misinformation more aggressively.’”
- “After President Biden accused social media companies of ‘killing people,’ Facebook emailed the Surgeon General to say ‘it’s not great to be accused of killing people’ and to say Facebook was ‘keen to find a way to deescalate.’ Social media platforms then met with the Surgeon General. ‘After the meetings with social-media platforms, the platforms seemingly fell in line with the Office of Surgeon General’s and White House’s requests.’”
- “The Department of Homeland Security ‘met with social-media companies to both inform and pressure them to censor content protected by the First Amendment.’ It then [reinterpreted] the word ‘infrastructure’ in its terminology to include ‘cognitive’ infrastructure, so as to create authority to monitor and suppress protected free speech posted on social media.’”
Bailey joined Wednesday’s edition of “Washington Watch” to discuss the ruling. “[W]e’ve only begun to scratch the surface,” he contended, while describing “a vast censorship enterprise emanating from the very top levels of the White House.”
Bailey further described the type of content that the Biden administration focused on for suppression. “What we know is that the censorship started with speech related to COVID and the Hunter Biden laptop story. But we have every reason to believe that that censorship enterprise is now mushroomed and expanded and is covering other topics that the government disagrees with. So, for instance, they can shut down speech related to questioning transgender issues, questioning global warming, or abortion.”
In response to a popular claim amongst liberal politicians and commentators that “misinformation” will run rampant unless the government steps in, Bailey was unequivocal.
“I think that’s exactly the kind of Orwellian nanny state that the judge is concerned about and is warning us against,” he argued. “[T]he whole idea of the First Amendment is to invite dissent and invite discussion so that the people can determine what they do and don’t believe based on free, fair, and open debate. It’s not for government officials to determine what we should and shouldn’t believe. We get to make those decisions for ourselves.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.