(The Center Square) – As states push back against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ plan to combat “disinformation,” two attorneys general sued him, President Joe Biden, and other top officials over claims they colluded with social media companies to censor speech.
The attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana Monroe Division. They sued Biden, former press secretary Jen Psaki, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Mayorkas, the new director of DHS’ “Disinformation Governance Board” Nina Jankowicz, and others.
The attorneys general say Biden and his officials colluded with big tech companies, including Meta, Twitter, and Youtube, to censor truthful information about a range of issues – including the coronavirus, election integrity and Hunter Biden’s laptop – under the guise of combating “misinformation.”
Biden and his officials “coerced, threatened, and pressured social-media platforms to censor disfavored speakers and viewpoints by using threats of adverse government action,” and are “now directly colluding with social-media platforms to censor disfavored speakers and viewpoints,” the AGs argue. Doing so violates the First Amendment, the Administrative Procedure Act, and exceeds statutory authority, the AGs argue. DHS creating a disinformation board also violates federal statutes, the complaint, filed Thursday, alleges.
“In direct contravention to the First Amendment and freedom of speech, the Biden Administration has been engaged in a pernicious campaign to both pressure social media giants to censor and suppress speech and work directly with those platforms to achieve that censorship in a misguided and Orwellian campaign against ‘misinformation,’” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said.
“Big Tech has become an extension of Biden’s Big Government, and neither are protecting the freedoms of Americans; rather, they are suppressing truth and demonizing those who think differently,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said. “Ripped from the playbook of Stalin and his ilk, Biden has been colluding with Big Tech to censor free speech and propagandize the masses. We are fighting back to ensure the rule of law and prevent the government from unconstitutional banning, chilling, and stifling of speech.”
They point to examples of then presidential candidate Biden seeking to have social media companies censor speech. In a Jan. 17, 2020, interview with the New York Times editorial board, Biden said Section 230 should be revoked because social-media companies weren’t doing enough to censor information. He also “suggested that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be subject to civil liability and even criminal prosecution for not censoring enough political speech,” the brief alleges.
It also points to examples of Psaki and Murthy stating in press briefings that Facebook and social media platforms should be doing more to combat health “misinformation.” Schmitt has been posting clips of their remarks on Twitter.
“We’re saying we expect more from our technology companies," Murthy said. …. We’re asking them to monitor misinformation more closely. We’re asking them to consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms,” the complaint points out.
Psaki also told reporters, “‘[W]e are in regular touch with these social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff, but also members of our COVID-19 team, given, as Dr. Murthy conveyed, this is a big issue of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic.’ She added, ‘We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.’”
Last February, in the wake of Spotify’s move to add advisory warnings to Joe Rogan’s podcast, Psaki said, “… we want every platform to continue doing more to call out … mis- and disinformation while also uplifting accurate information.”
The lawsuit also points to Facebook censoring posts after Fauci, “coordinating with others, orchestrated a campaign to discredit the lab-leak hypothesis in early 2020,” the complaint states. “At the same time as he was orchestrating a campaign to falsely discredit the lab-leak theory, Dr. Fauci was exchanging emails with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, regarding the control and dissemination of COVID-19 information.”
Facebook has been partnering “with government experts, health authorities and researchers to take ‘aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect public health,’” according to statements made by Facebook cited in the complaint.
The AGs point to Twitter’s policy of labeling and removing posts by anyone claiming face masks don’t prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and to Youtube censoring U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after they questioned mask efficacy.
The lawsuit was filed after they joined 18 other AGs in demanding that Mayorkas immediately disband DHS’s disinformation board. Schmitt also expressed alarm about comments made by its new director.
She’s “called for more aggressive censorship of election-related speech by social-media platforms, and has implied that social-media censorship of election-related speech should never relent or be reduced,” he said.