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Biden administration in the clear over social media contacts

June 26, 2024

The US Supreme Court has refused to curb contacts between the Biden administration and social media firms. The US officials had faced legal trouble for urging the removal of posts deemed to be spreading misinformation.

US Supreme Court in Washington DC
The US Supreme Court has overturned a ruling by a lower court on the Biden administration's social media contactsImage: Jemal Countess/Newscom/picture alliance

The US Supreme Court declined on Wednesday to impose curbs on the executive branch's communication with social media.

The ruling rejects a challenge made in 2022 on how federal officials encouraged the removal of social media posts deemed misinformation. The case was brought by the Republican-led states of Missouri and Louisiana and five individuals.

What did the Supreme Court say in its ruling?

Ruling on the motion in 2023, the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that various federal officials had likely violated the US Constitution's First Amendment that protects free speech.

The court also issued an injunction constraining contacts between President Joe Biden's administration and social media platforms.

In its Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court's verdict.

The Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs could not show a "concrete link" between the conduct by federal officials and any harm that the plaintiffs suffered.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that the plaintiffs "emphasize that hearing unfettered speech on social media is critical to their work."

"But they do not point to any specific instance of content moderation that caused them identifiable harm," she said in the Supreme Court ruling.

"This court's standing doctrine prevents us from (exercising such) general legal oversight of the other branches of government."

In a dissenting opinion, conservative justice Samuel Alito said the court's majority ruling "permits the successful campaign of coercion in this case to stand as an attractive model for future officials who want to control what the people say, hear and think."

What was the Biden administration accused of?

The plaintiffs had argued that the administration had violated the rights of people whose posts and comments were removed from major social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and X, formerly Twitter.

US President Joe Biden's administration argued that officials sought to limit the spread of misinformation on the internet, including false information about vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. It said that it had in many cases alerted social media firms to the fact that the content violated the companies' own terms of service.

The Justice Department argued that their actions did not amount to censorship, as social media companies were not threatened with adverse consequences.

sdi/dj (AP, Reuters, AFP)