Biden admin seeks emergency order halting ban on social media company contacts


(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday asked a federal appeals court for an emergency order halting a lower court ruling that bars some government agencies and officials from meeting and communicating with social media companies about moderating their content.

In a filing with the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the administration said the lower court ruling was “both sweeping in scope and vague in its terms,” and likely to be overturned on appeal.

The administration appealed the order on July 5, the day after it was issued. An emergency stay would put it on hold while the 5th Circuit considers the appeal.

The lower court order, issued by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana, came in a lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri and by several individuals. They alleged that U.S. government officials effectively coerced social media companies to censor posts over concerns they would fuel vaccine hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic or upend elections.

The social media companies mentioned in the lawsuit include Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms Inc, Twitter and Alphabet’s YouTube.

Doughty’s order barred government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and FBI from talking to social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech” under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with narrow exceptions.

U.S. officials have said they were aiming to tamp down misinformation about COVID vaccines to curb preventable deaths. They have also said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit no longer face any harm because those efforts ended more than a year ago.

Legal experts have said the order will likely face tough scrutiny on appeal, thanks to its breadth and the lack of clear precedents supporting it.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Daniel Wallis and Himani Sarkar)

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