A district judge on Monday blocked several federal agencies and officials of the Biden administration from contacting social media companies to discuss matters of protected speech.
Affected agencies include the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI. Affected individuals include Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The ruling says those named cannot contact social media companies with the goals of "encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech."
There are exceptions in the ruling which permit contact to warn companies about criminal activity, conspiracy theories or national security threats.
The block is part of U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's decision in a case from 2022, in which the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri sued. The plaintiffs said the federal government was too aggressive in pushing media companies to address content that could have driven vaccine hesitancy or affected elections.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian 'Ministry of Truth,'" Doughty wrote in his ruling.
A White House official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the Justice Department would review the ruling.
"Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present," the official said.
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