21 states want to overturn a court decision they claim helps spread online misinformation

August 2, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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A recent federal court decision prohibiting direct communication between social media companies and various federal agencies over concerns of harmful online content has sparked a multi-state coalition to action.

The coalition, comprising 21 state attorneys general, has rallied in opposition to the ruling, which it views as a significant threat to public safety and security online.

“Social media holds great promise but also carries great risks, especially when people use it to harass, scam and spread misinformation,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “An open dialogue between government officials and social media companies is critical to keeping Americans safe. The recent decision will not only stifle open debate and the free exchange of ideas, it will make the internet a more dangerous place for everyone.”

At the heart of the controversy is a case initiated in May 2022, by Missouri, Louisiana and several individuals. The lawsuit was directed against an assortment of federal officials and agencies, accusing them of exerting undue pressure on social media platforms to either suppress or remove specific types of speech.

This led to a preliminary injunction granted in July by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. The court order essentially halts any discussions between several federal government entities and social media firms on matters concerning content moderation policies.

The coalition of attorneys general, driven by the ramifications of the court’s ruling, has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, urging a reversal of the lower court’s decision. The coalition argues that the court order obstructs a vital instrument federal leaders have relied on to share information and perspectives on how social media platforms can protect Americans online.

The contention hinges on the belief that dialogue and information sharing between government officials and social media companies are essential in safeguarding the public, especially during crises such as public health emergencies, elections, and other events where misinformation can pose significant threats.

The brief filed by the coalition underscores the examples of effective collaborations with social media platforms. Among the instances cited are efforts to halt sellers from price-gouging supplies during the COVID-19 health emergency, identifying and reporting social media content related to the Buffalo mass shooting and consultations on protecting children from online harassment.

Moreover, the brief points out that social media companies have routinely welcomed the advice of state governments and federal agencies on topics crucial to the public interest, such as preventing the spread of misinformation aimed at undermining election security and integrity.

The states joining the coalition include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

 


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