President Joe Biden’s administration was barred by a federal judge on Tuesday from communicating with social media companies about content moderation.
The ruling, made by District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana, placed a temporary injunction on Biden officials and numerous agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from reaching out to social media platforms “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 injunction stems from a lawsuit filed last year by Republican attorneys general in both Louisiana and Missouri. The lawsuit claimed that government officials overstepped when asking social media companies to address content that they claimed promoted COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy or could disrupt elections.
While U.S. officials say they were merely attempting to clamp down on rampant misinformation, conservatives argued that they were being censored for their political beliefs.
In his ruling, Doughty compared the actions of the U.S. government to those of “an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,'” citing what he described as “substantial evidence” of “an almost dystopian scenario” regarding censorship.
In response to the decision, Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), who was Missouri’s attorney general when the lawsuit was filed, called the ruling “a huge win for the First Amendment and a blow to censorship.”
A White House official has since stated that the Justice Department is reviewing the injunction and plans to “evaluate its options.”
“This administration has promoted responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our elections,” the official said, according to the Associated Press. “Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present.”
The ruling does note, however, that U.S. officials may continue contacting social media platforms regarding criminal activity and national security threats.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit included controversial figures such as Jim Hoft, the founder of the conspiratorial blog the Gateway Pundit, who was one of the primary promoters of election fraud and COVID-19 misinformation.