Supreme Court sides with Biden admin over contact with social media firms

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The decision now lifts potential legal burdens on federal agencies’ communications with social media companies about disinformation on their platforms.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with the Biden administration in a clash over whether federal agencies can freely speak with social media firms about the removal of disinformation, as well as controversial topics like election results and vaccines on their platforms.

Last July, Missouri’s then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed the suit — which eventually became known as Murthy v. Missouri when it reached the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Biden administration’s efforts to communicate about disinformation violated First Amendment rights pertaining to free speech online in a bid to suppress politically conservative voices. Justices in a 6-3 vote jettisoned lower court rulings that favored the view, arguing that states lacked the legal authority to lodge the lawsuit at the federal level.

The new decision now provides legal cover for the White House’s ability to help take down disinformation in a major presidential election year.

While government agencies may have played a partial role in social media’s moderation choices, “the evidence indicates that the platforms had independent incentives to moderate content and often exercised their own judgment,” the court’s ruling said.

For around six months, agencies chilled their communications with social media firms about election security, public health and other disinformation flash points, concerned over the legal challenges they could face under accusations that the Biden administration was running a coercive censorship enterprise meant to dispel free speech.

Agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI were put in the crosshairs of the case. In recent months, they had begun resuming talks with social platforms after the high court in March heard arguments, where the justices appeared to favor the Biden administration.