On Independence Day Chief U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty blocked the federal government from communicating with social media platforms about protected free speech content after finding they were working together in widespread censorship of conservative views. Attorneys general from Louisiana and Missouri, who filed the lawsuit against 10 federal agencies and dozens of officials, presented 20,000 pages of evidence of a “vast censorship enterprise” which violated the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans.
Within Judge Doughty’s 155-page opinion, 86 pages of background facts show email chains, meetings, phone calls and even “public pressure campaigns” from the White House and other federal agencies “coercing” social media companies to suppress and censor content opposing “official” government narratives.
The Plaintiffs in the case alleged the government suppressed conservative speech in at least nine areas, such as “(1) suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story prior to the 2020 Presidential election; (2) suppressing speech about the lab-leak theory of COVID-19’s origin; (3) suppressing speech about the efficiency of masks and COVID-19 lockdowns; (4) suppressing speech about the efficiency of COVID-19 vaccines; (5) suppressing speech about election integrity in the 2020 presidential election; (6) suppressing speech about the security of voting by mail; (7) suppressing parody content about Defendants; (8) suppressing negative posts about the economy; and (9) suppressing negative posts about President Biden,” the ruling stated.
Judge Doughty expressed in his decision very simply what has happened between citizens with these opposing views and government officials in power.
“All were suppressed,” he stated.
“It is quite telling that each example or category of suppressed speech was conservative in nature. This targeted suppression of conservative ideas is a perfect example of viewpoint discrimination of political speech. American citizens have the right to engage in free debate about the significant issues affecting the country,” wrote Judge Doughty.
The Court recognized a massive “censorship-by-proxy” enterprise involving the White House, the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice and State, the FBI, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Judge Doughty catalogued the efforts of this enterprise throughout his ruling:
- The White House engaged in “unrelenting pressure” at least 22 times against social media companies. “White House Defendants engaged in coercion to induce social-media companies to suppress free speech.”
- “At a White House Press Conference, [former White House Press Secretary Jen] Psaki publicly reminded Facebook and other social-media platforms of the threat of ‘legal consequences’ if they do not censor misinformation more aggressively.”
- “Facebook noted that in response to White House demands, it was censoring, removing, and reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines ‘that does not contain actionable misinformation.’”
- In 2021, “a senior Meta executive reportedly copied Andrew Slavitt, former White House Senior COVID-19 Advisor, on his emails to Surgeon General [Dr. Vivek] Murthy, alerting them that Meta was engaging in censorship of COVID-19 misinformation according to the White House’s ‘requests’ and indicating ‘expanded penalties’ for individual Facebook accounts that share misinformation. Meta also stated, ‘We think there is considerably more we can do in ‘partnership’ with you and your team to drive behavior.’”
- The CDC, Census Bureau, CISA, and Department of Homeland Security officials “met with social media companies to both inform and pressure them to censor content protected by the First Amendment.” CISA then “expanded the word ‘infrastructure’ in its terminology to include ‘cognitive’ infrastructure, so as to create authority to monitor and suppress protected free speech posted on social media.”
- FBI officials testified that “3,613 Twitter accounts and 825 Facebook accounts were taken down in 2018…422 accounts involving 929,000 tweets in 2019.” FBI testimony regarding suppression and censorship beyond 2020 indicated the FBI has “never stopped.”
“[The] Defendants made it very clear to social media companies what they wanted suppressed and what they wanted amplified. Faced with unrelenting pressure from the most powerful office in the world, the social-media companies apparently complied,” stated Judge Doughty.
Judge Doughty’s injunction bars the 10 government departments and agencies as well as nearly 50 named federal officials from “engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” They are also barred from “flagging content or posts on social media platforms and/or forwarding such to social media companies” in any attempt to suppress or censor messages or views.
The injunction lists “Facebook/Meta, Twitter, YouTube/Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, TikTok, Sina Weibo, QQ, Telegram, Snapchat, Kuaishou, Qzone, Pinterest, Reddit, LinkedIn, Quora, Discord, Twitch, Tumblr, Mastodon, and like companies” as being restricted to the federal government when dealing on matters of protected speech.
As the case continues, Judge Doughty concluded, “The Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The alarming findings of facts in this case reveal the federal government has engaged in unprecedented censorship not unlike the propaganda machine of Nazi Germany. Tragically, the Biden administration’s pervasive censorship of opposing views in concert with complicit social media companies is undermining our inalienable right to free speech. We must erect a wall of separation between media and the state.