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What role should the federal government take when it comes to limiting, removing, or restricting content on social media platforms? According to one point of view, the White House and various federal agencies should play an active role in limiting the amount of misinformation and disinformation on these platforms. However, these federal agencies can go too far, literally coercing big social media companies to scrub their platforms of certain content that doesn’t agree with their own point of view.
The parameters of the legal battle
The question of what role the federal government should play when it comes to social media content is now at the heart of a major legal battle. The court battle, which was launched by Attorneys General in Missouri and Louisiana who were concerned about the ability of the White House and different federal agencies to limit free speech on social media platforms, has now wound its way up through the district court level to the federal appeals court level.
After much deliberation and debate, it now appears that a handful of big-time government players – including the White House, the FBI, the CDC, and the Surgeon General – have used their power and influence to tip the scales in their favor. Essentially, the evidence shows that, any time a point of view or inconvenient fact appeared on Facebook or Twitter (X), they simply called up the company and demanded that it be scrubbed. The problem, of course, is that this content did not pose any sort of legitimate security or criminal risk. It was simply content that the federal government did not like, and thus, content that they felt should not see the light of day.
The right to free speech
You can see the problem here – that’s the sort of heavy-handed behavior that goes on in authoritarian regimes. It completely violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Giving your personal take on the COVID crisis, or the war in Ukraine, or the situation at the Mexican border, or the current state of the economy, is protected free speech. You might not agree with someone else’s point of view, but it’s protected free speech.
Now that the case has moved through the legal system, the final takeaway appears to be the following: the White House, the CDC and the FBI clearly crossed a red line. As a result, the federal appeals judge for the case reiterated that, going forward, they would be forbidden to take actions that directly or indirectly coerce or encourage to remove, delete, suppress, or limit the reach of certain social media content. In short, the White House can’t call up Facebook any longer and demand immediate action be taken.
Regardless of your political views, you have to admit this limiting of power is the proper step to take. This case raises so many troubling concerns about where we are headed as a society. This is a nation of laws, and everybody needs to respect them. America was founded on the principle of free speech, and that has existed through a number of turbulent events in our nation’s history. So it’s no time to stop now protecting First Amendment rights. As a society, we need to do better.