Supreme Court Weighs In On Social Media Censorship

By Jennifer Wentworth | Tuesday, 19 March 2024 08:30 PM
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In a significant development, the Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case of Murthy v. Missouri.

The case was initiated by the Attorney General of Missouri, who alleged that the Biden administration had violated the First Amendment by colluding with social media platforms to suppress and censor American citizens' speech.

The crux of the justices' questioning revolved around the interpretation of coercion and the legitimacy of Missouri's standing in bringing the case forward. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, however, emphasized the necessity of the government's right to suppress speech under certain critical circumstances.

"My biggest concern is that your view is that you have the First Amendment hamstringing the government in significant ways in the most important time periods. I mean, what would you have the government do?" Jackson queried.

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She further elaborated, "I've heard you say a couple of times that the government can post its own speech, but in my hypothetical, 'kids this is not safe, don't do it,' is not gonna get it done." Jackson expressed her apprehension about the government's duty to protect citizens, which she believes could involve encouraging or pressuring platforms to remove harmful information.

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Jackson's perspective suggests that the government should have the authority to suppress free speech during crises or significant events when it deems it unsafe for citizens. This argument echoes the stance taken by the Biden administration each time they were accused of suppressing online speech that contradicted their narrative, from the Covid pandemic to the controversy surrounding Hunter Biden's laptop and the results of the 2020 election.

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Representing the government, Attorney Brian Fletcher argued that the government can lawfully persuade private entities to take action. He claimed that government officials advising social media companies about the potential harm of their algorithms falls within this scope. Fletcher posited that the government can utilize the "bully pulpit" to promote or suppress ideas. However, questions were raised regarding the imminent threat of harm and whether the plaintiffs could demonstrate their standing to bring the case.

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Missouri's representative, Benjamin Aguiñaga, countered that the government had intentionally set out to suppress speech, an action he argued was prohibited. Aguiñaga highlighted the clandestine nature of the communication between the government and social media platforms, suggesting that their covert approach indicated a conscious engagement in censorship.

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Justice Sotomayor expressed concerns about the evidence presented, stating, "I have such a problem with your brief, counselor. You omit information that changes the context of some of your claims. You attribute things to people who it didn’t happen to — at least in one of the defendants, it was her brother that something happened to, not her. I don’t know what to make of all this because I am not sure how we get to prove direct injury in any way."

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Former Missouri AG Andrew Bailey, who initiated the lawsuit, stated that the case revealed the extensive censorship enacted by the Biden administration in collaboration with social media platforms, which directly affected Americans online.

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Following the initiation of the case, a lower court imposed an injunction on the Biden administration, prohibiting them from communicating with social media companies. The Biden administration appealed to the Supreme Court for an emergency ruling against this injunction, leading to the case being heard by the court.

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