White House’s Efforts to Combat Misinformation Face Supreme Court Test

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday on whether the Biden administration violated the First Amendment in combating what it said was misinformation on social media platforms.

It is the latest in an extraordinary series of cases this term requiring the justices to assess the meaning of free speech in the internet era.

The case arose from a barrage of communications from administration officials urging platforms to take down posts on topics like the coronavirus vaccines, claims of election fraud and Hunter Biden’s laptop. Last year, a federal appeals court severely limited such interactions.

Alex Abdo, a lawyer with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said the Supreme Court’s review of that decision must be sensitive to two competing values, both vital to democracy.

“This is an immensely important case that will determine the power of the government to pressure the social media platforms into suppressing speech,” he said. “Our hope is that the Supreme Court will clarify the constitutional line between coercion and persuasion. The government has no authority to threaten platforms into censoring protected speech, but it must have the ability to participate in public discourse so that it can effectively govern and inform the public of its views.”

The court this term has repeatedly grappled with fundamental questions about the scope of the government’s authority over major technology platforms. On Friday, the court set rules for when government officials can block users from their private social media accounts. Last month, the court considered the constitutionality of laws in Florida and Texas that limit large social media companies from making editorial judgments about which messages to allow.

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