The Biden administration received a chilly reception from appeals court judges reviewing an order that would stop government officials from communicating with major social media companies.
(Bloomberg) — The Biden administration received a chilly reception from appeals court judges reviewing an order that would stop government officials from communicating with major social media companies.
The three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Thursday seemed to side with two states that said the Biden White House put pressure on social media platforms to take down unfavorable information about Covid-19. One judge described the communications from the government as “strong-arming” or “threats.”
“You have the government in secret, in private, out of the public eye, relying on unsubtle strong-arming, and veiled or not-so-veiled threats,” said Judge Don Willett, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. “‘That’s a really nice social media platform you got there, it’d be a shame if something happened to it.’”
US District Judge Terry Doughty in July issued a sweeping order barring federal officials and agencies from communicating with social media companies, arguing White House officials “coerced” the tech companies to take down particular posts. The 5th Circuit temporarily halted the order while it considers the government’s request for an indefinite pause during the appellate proceedings.
If the court ultimately denies the Biden administration’s request for the injunction, the Justice Department has signaled it will likely consider immediately petitioning the US Supreme Court to intervene.
On Thursday, Justice Department attorney Daniel Tenny argued the communications, disclosed over the course of the case, showed government officials expressing concerns to social media executives about efforts to fight misinformation — but the conversations did not amount to coercion. He said Doughty’s order would chill necessary and lawful communications between the administration and companies including X, formerly called Twitter, Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Jump, How High
Another judge said the messages indicated a relationship in which the government acted like “a supervisor complaining about a worker.”
“It’s like ‘jump’ and ‘how high,’” said Judge Edith Brown Clement, who was nominated by former President George H. W. Bush. “There seems to be some very close working relationship that they’re saying, ‘This isn’t being done fast enough.”’
If the ban is allowed to move forward, government agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be barred from contacting 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.”
The plaintiffs — the Republican attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri and individual users who say they faced repercussions for their online speech — accused the Biden administration of unconstitutionally coercing social media companies to take down unfavorable information about Covid-19 and other controversial topics.
The case is State of Missouri v. Biden, 3:22-cv-01213, US District Court, Western District of Louisiana (Monroe).
–With assistance from Madlin Mekelburg.
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