US Judge restricts Biden officials from contact with social media firms


By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday restricted some agencies and officials of the administration of President Joe Biden from meeting and communicating with social media companies to moderate their content, according to a court filing.

The injunction came in response to a lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, who alleged that U.S. government officials went too far in efforts to encourage social media companies to address posts they worried could contribute to vaccine hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic or upend elections.

The ruling said government agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI could not talk 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 Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A White House official said the Justice Department was reviewing the order and will evaluate its options.

The litigation was originally filed by former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. Schmitt, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, used Twitter to welcome the injunction and called it a win for free speech.

The order also mentioned by name officials including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Jen Easterly, who heads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in its restrictions.

Judge Terry Doughty, in an order filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, made some exceptions for communications between government officials and the companies, including to warn about risks to national security and about criminal activity.

The injunction was first reported by the Washington Post.

Tuesday’s order marks a win for Republicans who had sued the Biden administration, saying it was using the coronavirus health crisis and the threat of misinformation as an excuse to curb views that disagreed with the government.

U.S. officials have said they were aiming to tamp down misinformation about COVID vaccines to curb preventable deaths.

Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms, Twitter, and Alphabet’s YouTube did not respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Alistair Bell, Heather Timmons and Bill Berkrot)

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