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ARLINGTON, VA—In response to lawsuits brought last year over public officials censoring online discussion of COVID-related issues, a federal judge this week condemned several Biden administration agencies – including the CDC, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – for censoring citizens’ protected speech. It’s the latest development in the federal government’s efforts to shut down debate on social media.
In an opinion on Missouri v. Biden, handed down on Independence Day, District Court Judge Terry Doughty wrote, “In their attempts to suppress alleged disinformation, the Federal Government, and particularly the Defendants named here, are alleged to have blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech. Although the censorship alleged in this case almost exclusively targeted conservative speech, the issues raised herein go beyond party lines.”
The alleged coercion isn’t news to many people increasingly concerned about their civil liberties and their ability to use online platforms to get their news, connect with each other, and debate the most pressing issues of the day.
Just last year, the DHS announced it would launch a Disinformation Governance Board to “focus on countering misinformation and disinformation.” Americans for Prosperity (AFP) swung into action, highlighting the free speech concerns and mobilizing Americans across the country to speak up against the threat. In a victory for free speech, the DHS later backed down from these plans.
AFP continues to advocate against the administration’s attempts to suppress ideas it opposes on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
“This week’s decision reaffirms the concerns of millions of Americans that unelected bureaucrats are exercising powers they don’t have to silence voices online,” said AFP vice president of legal & judicial policy — and First Amendment attorney — Casey Mattox. “Free speech and the ability to question government are essential to our democracy. And the evidence in this case shows bureaucrats threatening social media companies in order to shut down the voices of people raising questions, offering dissent, and working to hold those in power to account. If you think that’s bad, imagine the impact on our First Amendment if Congress actually gave the government the authority to police speech online.”
While the lawsuits that led to this week’s ruling have yet to be fully resolved, the facts in the case validate people’s concerns about government overreach in online speech. Even if the agencies weren’t explicitly forcing social media companies to take down certain content, threats from those in political power can leave private platforms feeling like they may not have a choice.
“The government should be transparent about its communications with social media companies when it comes to requests surrounding user content,” said AFP senior policy analyst James Czerniawski. “Government transparency is the first step towards restoring Americans faith and trust in these institutions that are meant to be answerable to the people.”
Citizens are better equipped to defend against censorship if they can see what government actors are doing behind closed doors. Policies that require public officials to publish their communications with social media platforms about content moderation policies broadly and individual user speech specifically would increase accountability.
Learn more about AFP’s work to hold government accountable and protect civil liberties for all Americans.
Through broad-based grassroots outreach, Americans for Prosperity is driving long-term solutions to the country’s biggest problems. AFP activists engage friends and neighbors on key issues and encourage them to take an active role in building a culture of mutual benefit, where people succeed by helping one another. AFP recruits and unites activists in all 50 states behind a common goal of advancing policies that will help people improve their lives. For more information, visit www.AmericansForProsperity.org
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