The Supreme Court has handed Biden a temporary win in a censorship battle but the situation has left some people, including judges, concerned about violations of freedom of speech.
Suppressing Disinformation on Social Media
The dispute was in relation to social media content, specifically disinformation. The matter centered on claims that individuals within the White House and federal entities exerted influence on social media platforms to stifle information related to both the election and COVID-19.
Broad Implications for the Digital Public Sphere
The situation has led to concerns about censorship and violation of freedom of speech. Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said: “This is an immensely important case. These are momentous, thorny issues and how the court resolves them will have broad implications for the digital public sphere.”
A Temporary Halt
Controversially, the Supreme Court approved the Biden administration’s plea to temporarily halt a preliminary injunction that restricted the White House’s ability to contact social media platforms and request that disinformation be removed. The move has caused a huge wave of backlash.
A “Highly Disturbing” Decision
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch all expressed concerns about the censorship of private speech. In his dissent, Justice Alito wrote: “Government censorship of private speech is antithetical to our democratic form of government and therefore today’s decision is highly disturbing.”
Potential Severe Repercussions
The Biden administration said that it strictly only asked for disinformation to be removed and that the decision to actually remove it was made by the social media companies in question. They argued that not allowing the government to flag disinformation could have severe repercussions.
Intricate Political Discourse
The court is poised to address the fundamental First Amendment issues at the core of the case and will therefore become more deeply involved in the intricate political discourse surrounding online content, especially amid a presidential election.
The Internet’s Response
News of the Supreme Court’s approval of the Biden administration’s request was shared across the internet and people rushed to comment sections to give their views on the matter. For the most part, they were concerned about their First Amendment rights and what could happen to free speech, and the Constitution as a whole, in the future.
Free Speech and Lies
While most people were worried, some did support the decision. These individuals often said that lies aren’t covered by free speech and that something needs to be done to reduce misinformation and disinformation. They highlighted the importance of finding the balance between maintaining freedom of speech and combating widespread fake news.
An Interesting Case
One social media commenter said: “This is certainly shaping up to be an interesting case and will probably shape the government’s role in the internet and social media to come. Like it or not, there are good points being made here by both sides of the argument as society and our government try to balance the need to combat disinformation and the need for free speech.”
Historical Regulation of Distributed Speech
The commenter continued: “Historically speaking, the federal government of the modern era has always had at least some power to regulate distributed speech through the FCC and has used that power to try and moderate disinformation through the use of the now-abolished Fairness Doctrine. However, as our society becomes more and more reliant on social media and the internet to distribute news and ideas, the FCC grows more and more obsolete and ineffective.”
An Explosion of Disinformation
The commenter concluded: “I think anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can agree that fake news and disinformation has really exploded across social media in the last decade and action – whether by the government or not is up for debate – should be taken to combat this. Currently, if the lower courts have their way, moderation will be left to social media providers themselves – who don’t have a great track record in regard to moderating disinformation – and our currently toothless defamation laws.”
A Tricky Phenomenon
Quite a few people expressed concern. One such individual said: “I’m actually a bit on the bench on this one. Misinformation is a tricky phenomenon to define outside of a case-by-case basis. While social media companies have no obligation to comply when the Biden administration requests that they remove content, this relationship makes me uncomfortable. It could be used by future administrations to justify political censorship.”
Speech Has Consequences
Others supported the move, implying that the concept of freedom of speech is often misunderstood: “Freedom of speech refers to Americans’ rights to criticize our government without retaliation from said government. That is it. Speech has consequences.”
Mistakes vs. Lies
One person discussed the differences between making a mistake and lying: “Facts, research, and evidence do not back up lies. If you state something that is not factually correct and later address and correct the issue, it is a misstatement. If you deliberately provide information that is not factually correct, despite known facts, and double down on it, it is a lie.”
A Seriously Disturbing Development
Quite a few people misunderstood the situation and seemingly thought that the government is now allowed to take down social media posts itself: “This is a seriously disturbing development. Our government, which has been caught in outright lies to the American people, is now going to decide what is and is not the truth?”
Lies Are Not Free Speech
Another commenter wrote: “We never had such a problem with free speech issues until a group of people and their orange leader started shamelessly lying all the time. Lies are not free speech. Conspiracy theories are not free speech. Calling people deplorable names and threats of violence are not free speech and you all know it.”
Lies, Misunderstandings, and Misinterpretations
While some people supported it, most individuals appeared to be against the government being able to request content be taken down. “There’s lies, there’s misunderstandings, and there’s misinterpretations of facts. You should be free to express your opinion on what you believe. It is up to others to put you straight and present the truth to you,” one person said.
Not the Final Say
Others tried to calm everyone down: “This isn’t the final say on this case. The court didn’t rule on the merits of the case. They just halted enforcement of a lower court until the case goes through the appeals process.”
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