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Supreme Court debates Biden admin outreach on censoring controversial posts

via Associated Press

The US Supreme Court debated the Biden administration’s interactions with social media platforms regarding third-party content on topics like vaccines and election interference.

Some justices questioned if the government’s actions crossed constitutional boundaries, while others argued for the government’s duty to protect citizens by influencing platforms to remove harmful information.

“It’s got these big clubs available to it and it’s so it’s treating Facebook and these other platforms like their subordinates,” Justice Samuel Alito said.

“Your view has the First Amendment hamstringing the federal government, in significant ways in the most important time periods,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said. “The government actually has a duty to take steps to protect the citizens of this country… by encouraging or even pressuring platforms to take down harmful information.”

The lawsuit alleges federal agencies coerced platforms to censor posts, leading to a debate on free speech and government influence in the digital space.

“The government is not monolithic either,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. “Maybe EPA is trying to coerce a platform about something, and the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to coerce them the other way? I mean, you can’t just sort of pick and choose which part of the government you’re concerned about.”

“I have no experience coercing anybody,” he said.

“Just plain vanilla encouragement, or does it have to be some kind of significant encouragement? Because encouragement would sweep in an awful lot,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett said.

Conservative justices criticized the government’s actions, while others expressed concerns about limiting government intervention.

“Terrorists engage in things that come under the First Amendment. Let’s say they’re just recruiting people for their organizations” online, Justice Elena Kagan asked. “There’s all kinds of things that can appear on these platforms that do all kinds of different harms, and the inability of government that you’re suggesting to reach out to these platforms and say: we want to give you information that you might not know about on this.”

“They’re killing people… The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people,” Biden wrote in 2021.

The case raised questions regarding the government’s role in regulating online content and is expected to be decided by early summer.

“The question before the justices this morning is actually a fairly simple one. It’s whether the government went too far,” stated Thomas Dupree, former top official in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. “This administration leaning very heavily on these social media companies to take down content that the government didn’t like. Some of it concerned vaccine or health related information. Others concerned election related information. But it’s very different and it’s challenging if you’re a tech company and the government with all of its powers at its disposal, calls you up and says: Hey, we don’t like this post that we’re seeing on your website, We think that you need to take it down.”

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