In a significant development on Friday, the United States Supreme Court upheld a block on restrictions imposed by lower courts regarding the Biden administration’s efforts to strong-arm social media companies to remove content they consider misinformation.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary hold on a preliminary injunction that limited how the White House and specific federal officials could communicate with social media platforms while the administration’s appeal reached the Supreme Court.
Republican attorneys initiated the lawsuit general from Missouri and Louisiana, along with a group of social media users.
They alleged that federal officials had unlawfully played a role in stifling conservative-leaning speech on major social media platforms, including Meta’s Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube, and X (formerly known as Twitter).
This latest action by the Supreme Court keeps the matter on hold until October 20, allowing the justices more time to consider the administration’s request to block an injunction issued by a lower court.
The lower court concluded that administration officials had likely coerced social media companies into censoring specific posts, potentially infringing First Amendment free speech protections.
Justice Alito initially placed a temporary hold on the injunction on September 14. This temporary pause was lifted when a lower appeals court reconsidered the case. The court designated Justice Alito to handle matters arising from a group of states, including Louisiana, where the lawsuit was initially filed.
This case stands as one of many legal battles revolving around the tension between free speech and content moderation on the internet.
Democrats and liberals have expressed concerns about online platforms amplifying misinformation and disinformation regarding public health, vaccines, and election fraud. At the same time, conservatives and Republicans accuse these platforms of censoring their viewpoints.
The Biden administration has argued that its officials did nothing illegal. They claimed that they aimed to mitigate the dangers of online misinformation, particularly during the pandemic, by notifying social media companies about content that violated their own policies.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, based in Louisiana, issued a preliminary injunction in July. Judge Doughty found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their claim that the administration had suppressed “disfavored conservative speech.”
This suppression involved views on masking, lockdowns, and vaccines as public health measures during the pandemic and questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election, in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals later refined the injunction. Still, pending further legal proceedings, it confirmed its constraints on the White House, Office of the Surgeon General, FBI, CDC, and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.