Judges overseeing Missouri and Louisiana’s lawsuit against the federal government for its collusion with Big Tech platforms blasted the Biden administration during court proceedings on Thursday for using mob-like tactics to pressure said companies into censoring free speech online.
“In these movies that we see with the mob … they don’t say and spell out things, but they have these ongoing relationships,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod said. “They never actually say ‘go do this or else you’re going to have this consequence.’ But everybody just knows.”
Held in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Thursday’s hearing was to consider oral arguments in the Biden administration’s appeal of a July 4 injunction put in place by District Judge Terry Doughty that prohibited the federal government from working with Big Tech platforms to censor what they claim to be “disinformation” online. In his 155-page memorandum ruling, Doughty noted how “the evidence produced [by Missouri and Louisiana] thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario” and predicted the states’ suit will succeed “on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition” on topics such as Covid-19, lockdowns, vaccines, and more.
Doughty separately denied a motion to stay filed by the Biden administration a day after the July 4 ruling.
In comparing the Biden administration’s tactics of pressuring Big Tech platforms to censor free speech to those employed by the mob, Elrod specified she’s “certainly not equating the federal government with anybody in illegal organized crime,” but noted “there are certain relationships that people know things without always saying the ‘or else.'”
“What appears to be in the record are these irate messages from time to time from high-ranking government officials that say, ‘You didn’t do this yet!’ — and that’s my toning down the language — ‘Why haven’t you done this yet?’” she said. “It’s like ‘jump’ and ‘how high?’”
Judge Don Willett expressed similar views when describing how he views the federal government’s “unsubtle strong-arming and veiled or not-so-veiled threats” to influence social media companies’ content moderation policies. In summarizing government officials’ tone in their messages to Big Tech employees, Willett said, “That’s a really nice social media platform you got there — it would be a shame if something happened to it.”
As The Federalist previously reported, communications obtained by the state governments of Missouri and Louisiana show extensive coordination between the Biden administration and Big Tech companies such as Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, to squash what they claimed was “dis-” or “misinformation,” particularly posts regarding Covid. A July 2021 email from a senior Facebook representative to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, for instance, reveals how Biden administration officials and the Big Tech company met “to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from [Facebook] on misinformation going forward.”
The email was sent a day after Murthy published an advisory warning against the “threat of health misinformation” and calling on “tech and social media companies” to “do more to address the spread on their platforms.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Daniel Tenny, a Department of Justice lawyer, attempted to downplay the government’s censorship activities, arguing “The notion that the social media companies felt they had to bend to the FBI’s will when half the time they didn’t — it doesn’t fit any of these theories.” John Sauer, Louisiana’s special assistant attorney general, pushed back on such sentiments and also raised the FBI’s role in Big Tech’s censoring of the infamous Hunter Biden laptop story.
For context, after the New York Post dropped its bombshell report sourced from Hunter Biden’s laptop weeks before the 2020 contest, platforms such as X and Facebook went out of their way to censor the story and prevent its reach. On X, users were not permitted to share the story, even via direct message. The platform further removed links and issued alerts that it may be “unsafe.” Meanwhile, Facebook announced shortly after the story broke that it would be “reducing [the story’s] distribution” pending verification by third-party “fact-checkers.”
Heavily involved in these companies’ suppression of the story was the FBI, which had authenticated the laptop as early as November 2019 but nonetheless warned Twitter and Facebook to be on the lookout for “Russian propaganda” and “hack-and-leak operations” by state actors in the months leading up to the election. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg later admitted during a Joe Rogan podcast interview last year that Facebook’s decision to suppress the story was based on the FBI’s warning.
The FBI “knew that it wasn’t Russian disinformation, and then, having primed the platforms to expect it as a hack-and-dump operation would actually hit, then they said, ‘Is this Russian disinformation?’ [The FBI] said, ‘No comment,'” Sauer recounted. Doughty’s court “found that was a deliberately misleading course of deception.”