On Independence Day, in a ruling that affirmed freedom of speech, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against federal agencies and officials from connecting with social media companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to censor free speech.
Judge Terry A. Doughty, Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of Louisiana, explained the importance of the case:
This case is about the Free Speech Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The explosion of social-media platforms has resulted in unique free speech issues – this is especially true in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the allegations made by Plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history. In their attempts to suppress alleged disinformation, the Federal Government, and particularly the Defendants named here, are alleged to have blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
The ruling came in the course of a lawsuit brought by the states of Missouri and Louisiana which argued that the federal government had moved from threatening and cajoling Big Tech to censoring news and conservative viewpoints.
Then, the suit alleges, federal agencies and employees openly colluded to “suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints and content on social-media platforms under the Orwellian guise of halting so-called ‘disinformation,’ ‘misinformation,’ and ‘malinformation.’”
Officials from the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission were all named in the injunction.
Among other issues, the court order forbade them 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.
- Specifically flagging content or posts on social-media platforms and/or forwarding such to social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.
- 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 ruled, “The Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
Although this case is still relatively young, and at this stage the Court is only examining it in terms of Plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits, the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.”
Judge Doughty made the ruling on a motion filed in March 2023, by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, in the case Missouri v. Biden.
The states had filed the original lawsuit in May 2022, with then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt alleging that administration officials had colluded “with social media giants such as Meta, Twitter, and YouTube to censor and suppress free speech – including truthful information – related to COVID-19, election integrity, and other topics, under the guise of combating ‘misinformation.’”
Bailey tweeted about the decision, “This injunction is a huge win in our court battle against the largest First Amendment violation in American history.”
He added, “The Court points out that the 20,000+ pages of evidence my office uncovered display the frightening coercion and collusion occurring between the feds and social media companies.”
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