On Thursday, government lawyers went to court to defend federal meddling in content moderation decisions on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
On July 4, Judge Terry Doughty of the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, ordered the federal government to refrain from communicating with 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.”
That order is on hold pending the government’s appeal, which administration lawyers and attorneys for the states suing over the issue argued before a three-judge Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel.
DOJ lawyer Daniel Tenny told the panel that the administration merely “informed” the platforms of content containing “misinformation,” and that the platforms regularly refused the government’s “requests” that such content be removed. “The notion that the social media companies felt they had to bend to the FBI’s will when half the time they didn’t,” he argued, “doesn’t fit any of these theories.”
Meanwhile, attorney John Sauer, speaking for the states, claimed that the platforms faced “unrelenting pressure from the most powerful office in the world.”
The panel, Reuters reports, “appeared skeptical” of the administration’s arguments.
Judge Don Willett characterized the government’s approach as “that’s a really nice social media platform you got there – it would be a shame if something happened to it.”
Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod called the government messaging “irate … like a supervisor complaining about a worker.”
While government social media meddling initially centered around COVID-19 and supposed “election interference,” it’s definitely developed a foreign policy angle: As CNN reported on July 10, the US House Judiciary Committee accuses the Federal Bureau of Investigation of working with Ukrainian intelligence agencies to “flag” social media accounts spreading “Russian disinformation,” aka claims disputing the administration’s line on the war between those two countries, so as to stifle public debate on US foreign policy where that war is concerned.