A federal judge wants to get to the bottom of what kind of interactions the federal government has had with big tech companies and has ordered that it show its communications.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana Judge Terry Doughty recently rejected the Biden administration’s motion to dismiss a landmark case alleging collusion between the federal government and Big Tech to censor certain users related to COVID-19.
In Missouri v. Biden, the states of Louisiana and Missouri filed a lawsuit alleging that social media companies — such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn — censored certain viewpoints and users on its platforms at the direction of members of President Joe Biden’s administration as well as leaders at federal government agencies.
The lawsuit alleges that social media companies labeled information as “misinformation” and “disinformation” in violation of the First Amendment and that the federal government went beyond its authority and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The Court finds that the Complaint alleges significant encouragement and coercion that converts the otherwise private conduct of censorship on social media platforms into state action, and is unpersuaded by Defendants’ arguments to the contrary,” Doughty wrote in his ruling. “Further, while the Government may certainly select the messages it wishes to convey, this freedom is limited by the more fundamental principle that a government entity may not employ threats to limit the free speech of private citizens.”
Things heated up when Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey tweeted that Americans should be terrified of what Biden’s lawyers submitted to the judge regarding their reasoning for supporting some censorship.
Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, issued a similar warning about what Biden’s administration was arguing in court.
Missouri Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt accused the Biden administration of leading “the largest speech censorship operation in recent American history,” which he uncovered during his role as Missouri attorney general.
“The Biden Administration has led the largest speech censorship operation in recent American history,” Schmitt said. “Since taking office, President Biden and his team have labored to suppress viewpoints with which they disagree. And in so doing, they have infringed upon the individual freedoms of millions of Americans.”
Schmitt said that the Biden administration “colluded with social media giants Meta, Twitter, and YouTube to censor free speech in the name of combating so-called ‘disinformation’ and ‘misinformation,’ which led to the suppression and censorship of truthful information on a scale never before seen.”
Columbia Law School Professor Philip Hamburger wrote an op-ed titled, “How the Government Justifies Its Social-Media Censorship,” where he warned against the federal government’s use of privately-owned social media platforms to suppress the speech of Americans.
Hamburger notes, “When government uses private organizations such as Facebook and Twitter to censor speech, it’s widely assumed that the silenced speakers are suppressed merely by private actors, not by government. The Supreme Court only recognizes this to be government suppression of speech when the government has exercised coercive power or has provided such significant encouragement, either overt or covert, that the choice must in law be deemed to be that of the State.”
“Because the First Amendment bars ‘abridging’ the freedom of speech, any law or government policy that reduces that freedom on the platforms—for example, by obtaining content or viewpoint discrimination—violates the First Amendment,” he added.
Hamburger argues that the constitutional issue should be whether “it is government policy [that] is abridging the freedom of speech—meaning it has caused a reduction in the freedom—not whether the private platform has been converted into a government actor.”