A federal judge on Tuesday ordered some Biden administration agencies and top officials not to communicate with social media companies about certain content, handing a win to GOP states in a lawsuit accusing the government of going too far in its effort to combat Covid-19 disinformation.
In a preliminary injunction issued by US District Judge Terry Doughty, the judge ordered a slew of federal agencies and more than a dozen top officials not to communicate with social media companies about taking down “content containing protected free speech” that’s posted on the platforms.
The injunction notes that the government can still communicate with the companies as part of efforts to curb illegal activity and address national security threats.
The order applies to agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Justice Department and FBI as well as officials such as US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
The agencies and officials, Doughty said, are prohibited from “specifically flagging content or posts on social-media platforms and/or forwarding such to social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”
Doughty, a Donald Trump appointee, noted in the lawsuit that social media companies “include Facebook/Meta, Twitter, YouTube/Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, TikTok,” as well as a number of other online platforms.
A White House official said the Department of Justice is “reviewing the court’s injunction and will evaluate its options in this case.”
“This Administration has promoted responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our elections. Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present,” the White House official said.
Meta declined to comment. CNN also reached out to Twitter, Google and TikTok for comment.
The lawsuit brought by the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general in 2022 represents a novel way to pursue “censorship” claims accusing the Biden administration of effectively silencing conservatives by leaning on the private social media companies.
Though Doughty hasn’t yet ruled on the merits of the two states’ claims, his order Tuesday represents their most significant victory yet in the ongoing lawsuit. The judge had previously ordered the administration to produce documents identifying government officials and the nature of their communications with social media platforms.
This story has been updated with additional details.