On Independence Day, a federal judge issued a massive victory for free speech and a crushing defeat to government censorship. The court entered a preliminary injunction preventing the federal government from colluding with social media giants, halting what the court described as the Biden administration’s “massive attack against free speech.”
When I was Missouri’s attorney general, I filed this pivotal lawsuit, Missouri v. Biden, which alleged that numerous federal agencies and Biden White House officials colluded with social media companies to censor Americans’ speech under the guise of combatting what they considered to be “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Simply put, there should never be any censorship of Americans’ free speech, including in the virtual town square.
Government officials should never censor speech, and they should never be able to outsource that censorship. This lawsuit is one of the most consequential free speech cases in a generation.
Through the discovery phase, we found several emails showing direct collusion between top Biden administration officials and social media giants to censor speech on the origins of COVID-19 and other topics. Following a meeting with former Deputy Assistant to the President Rob Flaherty and White House COVID-19 Response Team Digital Director Clark Humphrey, Twitter assured the White House that it would increase its censorship of what they considered to be misleading information.
Flaherty badgered social media officials repeatedly and even accused Facebook of causing “political violence” by not censoring enough speech regarding COVID-19. The emails we uncovered even revealed weekly meetings between Biden White House officials and social media executives and staff to discuss censoring COVID-19 “misinformation,” including a Facebook official proposing a “monthly misinfo/debunking meeting” with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The emails also showed several instances where Facebook officials wouldn’t go forward with censoring a COVID-19 claim until they received input from the Biden administration’s “debunking team.” There are many more examples of the unfathomable and unforgivable coercion that the federal government used to achieve their goal of silencing dissent and advancing their narrative, and everyday Americans were collateral in their quest for power and control.
Make no mistake about it: this was a vast censorship enterprise that extended to the highest levels of the government to carry out an unprecedented attack on Americans’ free speech.
In the judge’s ruling, the court noted that this censorship enterprise “depicts an almost dystopian scenario” and that the federal government “seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’” The court found that not only did the government officials pressure social media companies to take down protected speech, but the officials pressured the platforms to change their policies in order to censor more speech.
The court also found that at least 22 times, “White House Defendants engaged in coercion to induce social media companies to suppress free speech” and noted that the vast majority of speech suppressed was conservative speech. The term “coercion” is of utmost importance here, because in order for our claims of free speech violations to be accepted as true, we had to prove “significant encouragement and coercion,” and we did. The federal government doesn’t get to censor speech, and they also don’t get to outsource that censorship either.
With this preliminary injunction, the federal government is prohibited from any further collusion with social media companies to silence citizens’ speech. But the fight doesn’t end there.
Congress needs to pass my Curtailing Online Limitations that Lead Unconstitutionally to Democracy’s Erosion Act — otherwise known as the COLLUDE Act — to ensure an assault like this on free speech never happens again. This legislation would provide a solution to prevent any similar censorship enterprise between big tech companies and the federal government by stripping the companies of their coveted Section 230 protections if they commit such actions.
Congress also needs to have a strong oversight role to ensure compliance with the court’s ruling.
Further, I plan to introduce even more legislation, including being able to hold individual government officials directly accountable if they work to censor speech, to combat censorship online and ensure this never happens again.
I led the legal fight to uncover this censorship enterprise, and I plan to lead the fight in the Senate to prevent any further trampling on Americans’ Constitutional rights.
Eric Schmitt is the junior U.S. senator from Missouri, formerly serving as the state’s attorney general.
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