Three conservative-leaning judges from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals are currently deliberating whether to overturn an injunction that has restricted the Biden administration’s interactions with social media platforms and its ability to request the removal of specific content. This appeal comes after a district court ruling on July 4th, which concluded that the Biden administration had exerted pressure on platforms to censor officials from Louisiana and Missouri for allegedly spreading COVID-19 misinformation.
During the oral arguments, attorney Daniel Bentele Hahs Tenny, representing the Biden administration, urged the court to either reverse the injunction or extend the stay by 10 days to allow for a potential Supreme Court review. On the opposing side, Missouri solicitor general Joshua Divine and attorney Dean John Sauer argued that the injunction should be upheld based on the legal standing of the states and individual plaintiffs.
Tenny contended that the injunction was unwarranted since it failed to specify any particular actions by the Biden administration that justified its issuance. Additionally, he highlighted that with COVID-19 no longer considered a state of emergency and platforms like Twitter no longer actively policing COVID-19 misinformation, the ongoing threat to plaintiffs who are at lower risk of content removal is unclear.
The issue of whether the government coerced social media platforms through content removal requests was also a point of contention. Tenny argued that while communications between the Biden administration and social media companies may have been confrontational, there was no clear evidence of implied threats if platforms did not comply with those requests.
However, Sauer challenged this position, asserting that the evidence supported the district court’s finding that the Biden administration had indeed pressured social media platforms into censoring content. He pointed to instances where platforms initially resisted requests but eventually yielded, citing pressure from government officials. Sauer highlighted public and private communications that indicated the government’s influence on social media companies, pushing them to comply with takedown requests or face potential policy changes, such as intensified antitrust enforcement.
Ultimately, the judges will decide whether to lift or uphold the injunction. The Biden administration has argued that keeping the injunction in place could potentially infringe on its free speech rights and hinder its ability to combat misinformation during emergencies.