A federal judge has issued an injunction barring U.S. officials from contacting Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube about content moderation policies. The injunction is part of a lawsuit filed by brought by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri against multiple agencies and officials, including the CDC, FBI, and State Department. The plaintiffs argue that the government is trying to censor speech on social media.
The lawsuits claim that the Biden administration's social media policy violates the First Amendment by pressuring platforms to censor or remove content that the administration deems misleading or harmful. However, the defendants claim they only request content moderation from tech companies and do not try to force it.
U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty believes the defendants are likely to lose the case. He said it is “quite telling” that most content moderation requests were conservative talking points such as anti-vaccination or climate change denial. In other words, the judge considers Biden officials are purposely trying to shape information by coercing big tech companies.
“The Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition,” wrote Doughty in his 155-page ruling. “Opposition to COVID-19 vaccines; opposition to COVID-19 masking and lockdowns; opposition to the lab-leak theory of COVID-19; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden's policies; statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was true; and opposition to policies of the government officials in power. All were suppressed. It is quite telling that each example or category of suppressed speech was conservative in nature. This targeted suppression of conservative ideas is a perfect example of viewpoint discrimination of political speech.”
A Battlefield for Free Speech Online
However, the lawsuits argue that the policy amounts to state-sponsored censorship and chilling of free speech, and that the platforms act as government agents when they comply with the policy. They allege that the policy infringes on the rights of users to express their opinions and access diverse sources of information.
The case is being closely watched by free speech advocates, who are concerned about the government's increasing efforts to regulate speech on social media. The outcome of the case could significantly impact the future of free speech online. On the other hand, there are increasing controls for social media companies to come under more scrutiny.
Misinformation and hate content have become problems across all major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. Tech companies are making increasing efforts to combat fake news and flag content as misinformation.
Big Tech Measures to Combat Fake News
- In November 2022, Google revealed how it fights against the spread of misinformation on YouTube and Search. YouTube provides a $13.2 million grant to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) in the form of the Global Fact Check Fund to support 135 fact-checking groups. Google also uses fact-checking tools across its apps and services, such as Google News, Search, and Images, and offers the Fact Check Explorer utility for users to verify information.
- During May last year, Twitter started a new Crisis Misinformation policy. According to the company, the policy will directly combat misinformation and fake news campaigns during “situations of armed conflict, public health emergencies, and large-scale natural disasters”.
- In February 2021, Microsoft expanded its misinformation detection efforts by forming the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity. The company is joined by several tech and information heavyweights to form the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (CP2A). Alongside Arm, Intel, Adobe, Truepic, and the BBC, the initiative aims to mitigate the spread of misinformation.