The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a revised ruling yesterday, prohibiting the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) from partnering with social media firms to stem the tide of misinformation. The ruling modifies a previous judgement from early September where the White House, along with other government entities such as the surgeon general, CDC, and FBI, were accused of overstepping their bounds by urging social media platforms to suppress or eliminate posts that perpetuated disinformation concerning the US Presidential Elections or COVID-19.
CISA as the Primary Facilitator of FBI-Social Media Coordination
The revised ruling further classified CISA as the said ‘primary facilitator' of FBI's communication with social media platforms. The plaintiffs from Missouri, Louisiana, and individual citizens alleged that CISA and the FBI coerced various platforms to revise their content moderation policies specifically concerning ‘hack-and-leak' content. Furthermore, the court decision mentioned that CISA's barring from making requests to social media platforms to limit false information spreading would cease most of the Biden administration's moderation requests. Notably, the court alleged that CISA not only acted as a conduit to pass along censorship requests but also went as far as instructing the platforms whether the centred content had truth-value or not.
Potential Escalation to the Supreme Court
Following the initial opinion by the 5th Circuit Court last month, there has been a sense of uncertainty surrounding the litigation. This has prompted the Biden administration to seek interpretation and assistance from the Supreme Court. The administration is seeking a stay against the original order that proscribes the administration from liaising with social media sites, originally issued by a Missouri court on 4th July this year. Further adding to the complexity is the fact that Missouri's Attorney General Andrew Bailey expressed his intent to hold the Biden administration accountable. This case now seems headed to the Supreme Court.
While CISA has refrained from commenting on the ongoing litigation, Executive Director Brandon Wales asserted that CISA neither censors speech nor facilitates censorship. He emphasized the agency's commitment to preserving Americans' freedom of speech, civil rights, liberties, and privacy while protecting critical infrastructure.
Misinformation on Social Media and Tech Company Reactions
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.
- In November 2022, Google revealed how it fights against the spread of misinformation on YouTube and Search. YouTube provided 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.