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Rutherford Institute Challenges Government Efforts to Censor Speech & Pressure Tech Companies to Block, Ban, De-Platform & Restrict Users

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Published on: February 23, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Rutherford Institute is challenging the government’s efforts to censor lawful First Amendment expression by pressuring social media companies to block, ban, remove, de-platform, de-boost, restrict, or otherwise deny equal access or visibility to users.

In an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Murthy v. Missouri (formerly known as Missouri v. Biden), Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the federal government violated free speech rights under the First Amendment by coercing and significantly encouraging social media companies to silence any viewpoints at odds with the government on a broad range of issues ranging from COVID-19 vaccines and safety measures to election fraud.

“Technofascism is the modern-day equivalent of book burning, which does away with controversial ideas and the people who espouse them,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “As the Supreme Court itself recognized, ‘The people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.’ Once you allow government agencies and corporations to determine what viewpoints are ‘legitimate’ and which are not, you’re already moving fast down a slippery slope that ends with the censorship of all viewpoints altogether other than that of the government and its corporate allies.”

For years now, federal officials from the White House, the Surgeon General’s Office, CDC, FBI, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have been in regular contact with nearly every major American social media company about the spread of “misinformation” on their platforms, urging them to remove disfavored content and accounts from their sites. In turn, the social media companies gave government officials access to an expedited reporting system, downgraded or removed flagged posts, and deplatformed users. The platforms also changed their internal policies to capture more flagged content and sent steady reports on their moderation activities to government officials.

A First Amendment lawsuit was subsequently filed against the federal government, arguing that although the social media platforms stifled their users’ speech, it was government officials who were pulling the strings through private communications and threats. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two epidemiologists who criticized COVID-19 lockdowns; a psychiatrist who opposed lockdowns and vaccine mandates; the owner of Gateway Pundit, a once-deplatformed news site; and the states of Missouri and Louisiana, whose Attorney Generals asserted their interests in protecting their citizens and the free flow of information. In siding with the plaintiffs, both the trial court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that government officials “engaged in a broad pressure campaign” by “relentlessly” asking the platforms to remove disfavored content (including “anti-vaccine” content which did not contain actionable misinformation), making “uncompromising demands” to moderate content, and threatening to retaliate against inaction with the prospect of legal reforms and enforcement actions. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the government defended its actions as permissible government speech, which Rutherford Institute attorneys refute in their amicus brief.

Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted with advancing the arguments in the amicus brief in Murthy v. Missouri.

January 26, 2024 • Rutherford Institute Calls on Supreme Court to Uphold Laws Prohibiting Censorship by Tech Companies & Protecting Free Speech on Social Media

Murthy v. Missouri

Article posted with permission from John Whitehead

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