A federal court in Louisiana on Tuesday barred parts of the Biden administration from communicating with social media platforms about broad swaths of content online, a ruling that could curtail efforts to combat false and misleading narratives about the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.
In the ruling, Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana said that parts of the government, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, could not talk to social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”
Judge Doughty said in granting a preliminary injunction that the agencies could not flag specific posts to the social media platforms or requests reports about their efforts to take down content. The ruling said that the government could still notify the platforms about posts detailing crimes, national security threats or foreign attempts to influence elections.
The ruling was a victory for Republicans and other conservatives who have filed a series of lawsuits accusing the government of cajoling or coercing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media companies to censor its critics. Although the ruling is likely to be appealed by the administration, its impact could be sweeping, forcing government officials, including law enforcement agencies, to refrain from notifying the platforms of troublesome content.
Government officials have argued they do not have the authority to order posts or entire accounts removed, but they have long cooperated with Big Tech to take action against illegal or harmful material, especially in cases criminal activities like child sexual abuse or human trafficking. That has also included regular meetings to share information on, for example, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
The White House did not immediately offer a comment. Google and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Twitter did not immediately have a comment.