- By Annabelle Liang
- BBC News
A U.S. federal judge has limited the Biden administration’s communications with social media companies that aim to moderate their content.
In a 155-page ruling on Tuesday, Judge Terry Doughty barred White House officials and some government agencies from contacting companies about “protected speech content.”
It was a victory for Republicans who accused the officials of censorship.
Democrats said the sites failed to address misinformation.
The case was one of the most closely watched First Amendment battles in U.S. courts, sparking a debate about the government’s role in censoring false or harmful content.
The White House said the US Department of Justice is reviewing the ruling and deciding on its next steps.
“It is our consistent view that social media platforms have an important responsibility to take into account the effects their platforms have on the American people,” the White House said in a statement.
It added that sites “must make independent choices about the information they provide”.
The ruling comes after the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana sued that US authorities pressured the social media sites to address posts on topics including Covid-19 policies and election security.
Judge Doughty, an appointee of former US President Donald Trump, said the plaintiffs had “presented substantial evidence to support their claims”.
“The evidence produced so far paints an almost dystopian scenario,” Mr Doughty said in his judgement.
He added: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, a period best characterized by widespread skepticism and uncertainty, the US government seems to have assumed a role akin to the Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth’.”
Communication from government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI, was limited.
It also targeted U.S. officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Jen Easterly, head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
However, it provided exceptions for contacting companies to warn of risks to national security and criminal activity.
Judge Doughty also noted several email exchanges between White House officials and social media companies.
It includes an April 2021 email from White House digital strategy director Rob Flaherty to employees of tech giant Google.
In an email, Mr Flaherty said Google’s video-sharing site YouTube was “pushing” people into vaccine hesitancy.
“This is a concern shared at the highest (and I mean the highest) levels of the WH,” he wrote.
Google did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment.
Twitter, the social media platform owned by multi-billionaire Elon Musk, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Instagram owner Meta declined to comment on the ruling.