Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Covid-Era Case on Free Speech to Test Supreme Court: Justices to consider whether federal officials unlawfully pressured tech companies to suppress posts opposed to vaccines; Supreme Court Justices Appear Skeptical of Censorship Claim Against Biden White House in Big Tech Case, and other C-Virus related stories

Photo: Julia Nikhinson/Reuters
WSJ: Covid-Era Case on Free Speech to Test Supreme Court:
Justices to consider whether federal officials unlawfully pressured tech companies to suppress posts opposed to vaccines
When Hank Aaron died in 2021, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.suggested in a tweet that the baseball legend’s death was caused by a Covid vaccine.
The next day, a White House employee asked Twitter, now known as X, to take down Kennedy’s post. “Wondering if we can get moving on the process for having it removed ASAP,” the White House’s Covid-19 digital director wrote to two Twitter employees.
The social-media platform did so. Meta Platforms went further, later suspending Kennedy, a nephew of John F. Kennedy and now a long-shot presidential candidate, from Instagram and Facebook.
The exchange was emblematic of the White House’s strategy for fighting what it said was misinformation about vaccines, Covid lockdowns and other public-health efforts in a time of crisis. Dozens of federal officials were in contact with online platforms about removing or demoting posts, according to court documents.
The Supreme Court this week will consider whether the administration’s zeal crossed a constitutional line, the latest in a series of cases this year that could set important ground rules for digital free speech and content moderation.
Essentially, the justices will try to navigate two starkly competing views: Did the government use its powers of persuasion in a permissible way to advance its policies? Or did it illegally coerce private companies into suppressing speech that the government couldn’t silence on its own?
“There’s always a line-drawing problem,” said Tufts University law professor Michael Glennon. “Inevitably, you’ve got to make very difficult judgments about when enough is enough.”
The case, with arguments scheduled for Monday, centers on a 2022 lawsuit led by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, which alleges that the federal government engaged in censorship under the guise of combating misinformation.
“Defendants’ conduct fundamentally transforms online discourse and renders entire viewpoints on great social and political questions virtually unspeakable on social media, the modern public square,” the states wrote in a brief to the high court. --->READ MORE HERE
NY POST: Supreme Court justices appear skeptical of censorship claim against Biden White House in Big Tech case:
The Supreme Court seemed deeply wary Monday of finding the Biden administration improperly coordinated with Big Tech companies to censor social media posts deemed “misinformation” about topics including the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 presidential election.
The White House had challenged lower court rulings barring multiple White House officials from corresponding with companies like Google, Facebook and X about content moderation, decisions the Supreme Court had put on hold while it considers the matter.
The case derives from a lawsuit filed by the Republican state attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana accusing the Biden administration of leaning on Big Tech to remove postings that didn’t jibe with the government narrative of the pandemic and other controversial topics.
Across the court’s ideological lines, the justices suggested that the lower courts had overstepped by restricting communications between government officials and the platforms. 
At one point, liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked Louisiana Solicitor General J. Benjamin Aguiñaga: “Suppose someone started posting about a new teen challenge that involves teens jumping out of windows at increasing elevations?”
“Is it your view,” the justice went on, “that the government authorities could not declare those circumstances a public emergency and encourage social media platforms to take down the information?”
Aguiñaga argued that the government can use its bully pulpit to push back against a budding public health epidemic and can even call up social media companies to convey those concerns to them, but drew a line at pressuring them.
“The moment that the government tries to use its ability … and its stature as the government to pressure them to take it down, that is when you’re interfering with third-party speech rights,” he argued. --->READ MORE HERE
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