Biden admin seeks emergency order halting ban on social media company contacts

(This July 6 story has been corrected to fix the court where filing was made in paragraphs 1-3)

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday asked a federal judge to put on hold his earlier order barring some government agencies and officials from meeting and communicating with social media companies about moderating their content.

In a filing before U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, the administration said the judge’s Tuesday ruling was “both sweeping in scope and vague in its terms,” and likely to be overturned on appeal.

The administration appealed the order to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday. If Doughty refuses to pause his own order, the administration will likely ask the 5th Circuit to do so instead while it considers the appeal.

Doughty’s order came in a lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri and by several individuals. They alleged that U.S. government officials effectively coerced social media companies to censor posts over concerns they would fuel vaccine hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic or upend elections.

The social media companies mentioned in the lawsuit include Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms Inc, Twitter and Alphabet’s YouTube.

Doughty’s order barred government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and FBI from talking to social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech” under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with narrow exceptions.

U.S. officials have said they were aiming to tamp down misinformation about COVID vaccines to curb preventable deaths. They have also said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit no longer face any harm because those efforts ended more than a year ago.

Legal experts have said the order will likely face tough scrutiny on appeal, thanks to its breadth and the lack of clear precedents supporting it.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Daniel Wallis and Himani Sarkar)


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