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Supreme Court Wades into Social Media Disinformation

Social media is rife with disinformation and malinformation, some of it accidental but a lot of it intentional. Social media gives malign actors, foreign and domestic, a fantastic platform to spread lies. The federal government would like the tech companies to police their platforms and remove postings that are clearly false. Some of them don't want to. Elon Musk is leading the way here, even if it destroys his $44 billion investment in Twitter. That's not serious money to him. Other platforms are not so much against the idea of removing lies but find it hard to draw the line. How big does a lie have to be to warrant removing it? And policing millions of user-generated comments every day is expensive, since AI is not even close to being up to the job, so thousands of employees are needed to handle the vetting.

So, as usual, the Supreme Court gets to make the call. What the Founding Parents thought of as the least important branch of government nevertheless seems to be the decider a lot of the time.

Specifically, the Biden administration has been pressuring social media companies to clean up their acts and remove lies and filth from their platforms. The companies sued the administration on the grounds that the First Amendment says the government can't block anyone's speech and certainly can't tell companies to do it to their users. A district judge in Louisiana agreed with the companies and ordered the government to stop bothering them. His order barred the administration from "urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit modified the ruling somewhat, saying that the government could not coerce companies into removing false content, but allowed the government to politely ask companies to do so as long as there were no (implied) sanctions for refusing to do so.

On Friday, the Supreme Court blocked the lower court injunction until it could decide the case on its merits. It will hear oral arguments this year or next and rule by June. Five social media users have said that the government is curtailing their rights to free speech and it doesn't matter whether what they say is true or false, the government has no business trying to censor them based on the First Amendment. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented from Friday's order to block the lower court injunction. They criticized the majority for being too lenient on the administration. Of course, they know it is Donald Trump and conservatives generally who are doing the lying and don't want to be censored. (V)

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