SCOTUS hears social media cases

Sharply questioning both sides, the justices sought to determine when it is appropriate for the government to encourage the platforms to remove controversial content — if ever.


Several justices, both liberal and conservative, pushed against the sweeping argument made by Louisiana Solicitor General Benjamin Aguiñaga, who claimed the government should not, in most circumstances, ask platforms to remove any content.


The justices suggested that in some instances, the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens could outweigh their First Amendment rights.


Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raised a hypothetical about a made-up internet challenge blowing up online, in which teens encourage each other to jump out of windows from increasing heights.


“Is it your view that the government authorities could not declare those circumstances a public emergency and encourage social media platforms to take down the information that is instigating this problem?” Jackson asked.


Aguiñaga replied that the government could publicly recognize the challenge as a public health threat but hesitated on the government asking platforms to remove the content if it is “protected speech.”


“My biggest concern is that your view has the First Amendment hamstringing the government in significant ways in the most important time periods,” Jackson later said to Aguiñaga.


The case stemmed from the Biden administration’s efforts to curb misinformation online, which two Republican attorneys general contend amounted to a “campaign of censorship” bent on deplatforming “disfavored speakers, viewpoints and content.”


Biden administration officials’ requests to social media companies largely focused on content about the results of the 2020 presidential election, which former President Trump was contesting, and COVID-19 vaccine misinformation running rampant.


The Justice Department has argued that blocking communication between federal officials and social media companies could limit the government’s ability to address matters of public concern, prevent national security threats and relay information.


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