Ruling: White House Can’t ‘Coerce’ Social Platforms Over COVID Content

A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling limiting how the White House can communicate with social media platforms.

The ruling Friday (Sept. 8) by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals says that President Joe Biden’s administration’s efforts to restrict what it deems misleading content about COVID-19 on social media was a free speech violation. 

“The officials have engaged in a broad pressure campaign designed to coerce social-media companies into suppressing speakers, viewpoints, and content disfavored by the government,” a three-judge panel wrote. “The harms that radiate from such conduct extend far beyond just the Plaintiffs; it impacts every social-media user.”

However, the ruling also scales back the original ruling, which had applied to the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, along with the State Department. 

The rulings stem from a lawsuit filed against the Biden administration by a pair of Republican state attorneys general from Missouri and Louisiana. That suit accuses the White House of quashing free speech by urging companies like Meta and Twitter to suppress posts the government said were promoting vaccine hesitancy.

The court agreed to put its ruling on hold for 10 days while the U.S. Justice Department takes the matter before the Supreme Court.

The news came two days after Google unveiled a policy that requires election advertisers to disclose when their ads have been manipulated or created using artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

A Google spokesperson told PYMNTS that the company has provided added levels of transparency for election ads for years, such as “paid for by” disclosures and a library of additional information about election ads seen on its platforms.

“Given the growing prevalence of tools that produce synthetic content, we’re expanding our policies a step further to require advertisers to disclose when their election ads include material that’s been digitally altered or generated,” the Google statement said. “This update builds on our existing transparency efforts — it’ll help further support responsible political advertising and provide voters with the information they need to make informed decisions.”

As part of the updated policy, advertisers will be required to include prominently-displayed language on modified election ads that says specifically that the the content has been computer-generated or edited with the help of AI.