Judge blocks federal officials from contacting tech companies

The order stems from a lawsuit alleging the Biden administration colluded with social media platforms.

Jonathan Ernst / reuters

A judge has blocked the Biden administration and other federal officials from communicating with social media companies in a case that could have far-reaching implications. On Tuesday, a Trump-appointed judge granted the state attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri a temporary injunction against the federal government, reports The Washington Post. The two Republican lawyers sued President Joe Biden and other top government officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, last year, accusing them of colluding with Meta, Twitter and YouTube to remove “truthful information” related to the COVID-19 lab leak theory, 2020 election and other topics.

Although he has yet to make a final ruling in the case, Judge Terry A. Doughty wrote in his order that the Republican attorneys general “produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.” While the order grants some exceptions for the government to communicate with Meta, Twitter and YouTube, it also specifically targets more than a dozen individual officials. Among those are Jen Easterly, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security.

The lawsuit is the latest effort by some Republicans to allege the Biden administration pressured social media platforms to censor conservative views. The GOP has aired that grievance in a few different venues — including, most notably, a contentious House Oversight Committee hearing at the start of the year related to the so-called “Twitter Files.” The lawsuit from the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri takes a different tack. Instead of directly targeting Meta, Twitter and YouTube, which argue they have a First Amendment right to decide what content is allowed on their platforms, the attorneys general sued the federal government. Whatever happens next, that strategy has already led to the most successful effort yet to counter online content moderation.

Separately, it's worth noting Meta, Twitter and YouTube have all recently scaled back their moderation policies in one way or another. In the case of YouTube, for instance, the company said last month it would begin allowing videos that falsely claim fraud occurred during the 2020 election. Meta, meanwhile, last month back its COVID-19 misinformation rules for Instagram and Facebook in countries where the pandemic is no longer deemed a national emergency.