President Joe Biden's communication with social media companies has been limited, creating a major roadblock in combatting disinformation ahead of the 2024 election.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled against allowing certain Biden administration agencies to communicate with social media platforms, with Republicans claiming that combatting disinformation will restrict freedom of speech.
Disinformation is defined as false information which purposefully intends to mislead, which can often take the form of propaganda.
Two Republican state attorneys general referred to content moderation as a "campaign of censorship," arguing that the Biden administration “coordinated and colluded with social-media platforms to identify disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content.” District Judge Terry Doughty, who was appointed by Trump, ruled in their favor.
The case primarily focused on disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that the administration disagrees with the ruling, as incorrect information surrounding the effectiveness of masks and vaccines affected public safety, and even cost lives.
“Our view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take action or to take account of the effects of their platforms,” she said, adding that the administration will “continue to be responsible in that way.”
The Justice Department has filed a notice of appeal, which will likely lead to a stay on the district court’s decision. The case will then go to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which consists primarily of GOP-appointed judges.
Technology and disinformation experts have expressed concern over the ruling. Alice Marwick, principal researcher at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, told The Hill that the ruling perpetuates the false narrative that cracking down on disinformation is equivalent to government suppression.
“This [ruling] is part of a political ploy to change the meaning of disinformation from information that’s incorrect and harmful to a sort of political slur — the idea that labeling something disinformation is tantamount to censorship,” Marwick said. “What this ruling does is it really continues that narrative.”
To Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, “If we end up with basically no meaningful content moderation, then it is going to be a Wild West of disinformation."
“This is a very broad-based decision,” he added. “And it actually, I think, marks new territory in terms of First Amendment rights.”