Supreme Court Backs Biden In Social Media Misinformation Case

US Supreme Court sides with Biden after Republican-led states challenged federal halt of misinformation posts on social media

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with the Biden administration in a dispute with Republican-led US states over how far the federal government can go to combat controversial social media posts on topics such as Covid-19 and election security.

The Associated Press reported that by a 6-3 vote, the justices threw out lower-court rulings that favoured Louisiana, Missouri and other parties in their claims that officials in the Democratic administration had leaned on the social media platforms to unconstitutionally squelch conservative points of view.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the court that the states and other parties did not have the legal right, or standing, to sue.

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Image credit: Pexels

Censoring conservatives?

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented, the AP reported.

It added that this case is among several before the court this term that affect social media companies in the context of free speech.

In February, the court heard arguments over Republican-passed laws in Florida and Texas that prohibit large social media companies from taking down posts because of the views they express, the AP reported.

In March, the court laid out standards for when public officials can block their social media followers, AP reported.

It comes after years of complaints from conservatives in the US that social media platforms are censoring conservative viewpoints.

The conservative states had argued that White House communications staffers, the surgeon general, the FBI and the US cybersecurity agency are among those who applied “unrelenting pressure” to coerce changes in online content on social media platforms.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill called the decision “unfortunate and disappointing.”

The court majority, Murrill was quoted by AP as saying in a statement, “gives a free pass to the federal government to threaten tech platforms into censorship and suppression of speech that is indisputably protected by the First Amendment. The majority waves off the worst government coercion scheme in history.”

Covid misinformation, election security

The ability of the US authorities to tackle misleading social media posts about elections or other controversial subjects, came to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021.

In April 2020, soon after many countries (including the UK) had gone into lockdown, Facebook ruled that posts of Covid-19 allegedly leaking from a ‘Wuhan lab’ would be labelled as ‘conspiracy theory’, after they were deemed to be ‘harmful misinformation’.

coronavirus Image credit: World Health Organisation
Image credit: World Health Organisation

But in May 2021 Facebook ruled that posts about Coronavirus coming from Wuhan lab would no longer be labelled as ‘fake news’.

In July 2021 the Biden administration had targetted social media firms, as it sought to stem the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.

It came after President Biden had commented that Facebook was “killing people” due to Covid misinformation, but he soon backtracked to put the focus on a dozen users held responsible for spreading two-thirds of the fabrications in question,