In the latest installment of the ongoing censorship saga, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit Court found that the Biden administration overstepped its bounds by requiring social media and big tech to censor content it didn’t agree with. The court suggested that the administration might have used intimidation and threats to shape these decisions, which could infringe on the platforms’ First Amendment rights.
This legal battle began with a lower court imposing restrictions on the Biden administration’s interactions with social media platforms. Initially, these restrictions applied to several government agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, Homeland Security, and the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, the Fifth Circuit judges intervened, temporarily blocking the order and later modifying it. They narrowed the restrictions to only affect the White House, the surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI.
The judges emphasized the importance of distinguishing between government speech and individual liberty, highlighting that certain exempted agencies were permissibly engaging in government speech.
The controversy revolved around allegations that the Biden White House and the CDC had pressured Facebook and YouTube to adopt specific policies regarding COVID-19 and vaccination-related content, but the judges noted that the FBI had frequent meetings with tech companies leading up to the 2020 elections.
These interactions were not limited to foreign threats. The FBI also flagged posts originating within the U.S., including those containing incorrect information about polling hours and mail-in voting procedures.
On the 4th of July this year, Judge Terry A. Doughty made a significant legal decision by issuing a preliminary injunction that prohibited Biden administration officials from making direct contact with social media companies.
The recent update to this injunction represents a partial relaxation of these restrictions, although it is still perceived as a victory by conservatives and advocates of free speech. The ruling specifically restricts any censorship attempts by the administration that could be interpreted as an attempt to “coerce or significantly encourage social media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or alter posted social media content containing protected free speech, including through modifications to their algorithms.”
Liberals, however, also have reason to celebrate. Under this revised ruling, limited communication is now allowed between government entities and social media platforms. The 5th Circuit Court has partially vacated the lower court’s injunction, retaining only a provision related to alleged coercion.
This narrower injunction now pertains specifically to the White House, the Surgeon General, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the FBI, while excluding other federal officials previously covered by the initial lower court order. Simultaneously, it lifts the previously imposed restrictions on the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Health and Human Services Department.
The Department of Justice is looking for loopholes in the decision, requesting the court to define exactly what the limitations are. The latest appeals court ruling does not take effect until the end of October, leaving the administration with no ability to interfere with social media between September 18, when the first injunction was scheduled to begin, and October 31, when the laxer ruling takes effect.
Currently, the DOJ is requesting clarification on what agencies can continue to censor content and how they can legally continue to influence big tech in the interim as it formulates a case to present to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The 5th Circuit Court’s decision marks a victory for free speech advocates, as it restricts government attempts to coerce social media platforms into censoring content they disagree with. While the Department of Justice seeks clarification on the ruling’s limitations, the potential for a Supreme Court review looms, which could lead to a reinstatement of the initially relaxed restrictions and provide stronger protection against First Amendment violations.
But it also gives progressives new avenues to pursue their continued assault against free speech by using different agencies not specifically covered under the ruling to continue the censorship. Progressives never give up – they just find new ways around the Constitution.