A federal appeals court has ruled that the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment in its communications with social media companies. The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that officials from the Surgeon General, FBI, and US Centers for Disease Control “coerced or significantly encouraged social media platforms to moderate content” related to COVID-19 disinformation. This move was deemed a violation of the First Amendment.
However, the court also found that a preliminary injunction issued by a judge in Louisiana, which prohibited the administration from communicating with social media companies on certain types of content, was overly broad and vague. The lawsuit was originally filed by the states of Louisiana and Missouri, as well as the owner of a conservative website and four individuals who opposed the administration’s handling of COVID-19.
The judge in the case also determined that the original injunction included more agencies than necessary and removed some agencies from the order. Concerns highlighted in the lawsuit included the administration’s request for platforms to take down posts related to election fraud, the pandemic, and Hunter Biden’s laptop.
The Biden administration has argued that it should have the power to discuss the removal of content when it impacts crucial matters such as election security and public threats, including COVID-19.
The 5th Circuit left part of the injunction in place, which prohibits officials from pressuring or coercing social media companies to remove protected free speech. However, it suggested that the injunction should be adjusted to specifically target illegal conduct, as the current terms could potentially encompass otherwise legal speech.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry hailed the ruling as a “major win against censorship” in a tweet. The 5th Circuit has paused the order for 10 days to allow for potential appeal to the Supreme Court. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the decision and evaluating its options in the case.
The Biden administration has emphasized that social media platforms have a responsibility to consider the impact their platforms have on the public, but should have the freedom to make independent decisions about the information they present.