MONROE, La—A federal judge issued an injunction today against the Biden administration in a case brought by attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri alleging that Biden administration officials impermissibly pressured social media companies to respond to posts contributing to vaccine hesitancy and election misinformation. 

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. 

“This case raises the difficult but also vitally important question of when the First Amendment restricts the government from trying to persuade, encourage, or ‘jawbone’ private actors into suppressing speech. The question is difficult because there are competing principles at play. On one hand, the government needs to be able to govern, and governing requires speech, including speech directed at private actors. It surely can’t be a violation of the First Amendment for the government to call out a newspaper for publishing a story the government believes to be false. On the other hand, we don’t want the government to be able to escape the First Amendment’s prohibition against censorship simply by relying on informal coercion rather than formal regulation. This is especially important in the context of social media, because platforms often have every incentive to bow to pressure from government actors. The content they are encouraged to suppress is usually not their own, and resisting government pressure can lead to regulatory retaliation.

“All of this said, the court’s order in this case is certainly too broad; it would insulate the platforms not just from coercion but from criticism as well. If the court doesn’t narrow the order itself, the appeals court should do it.”

Read the court’s decision here and its order here.

The Knight Institute recently announced that it will host a convening in the fall to focus on issues relating to “jawboning” and the First Amendment. The call for proposals is here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, [email protected]