US Government banned from communication with social media companies: disinformation regulation under scrutiny

The preliminary injunction banning direct communication between the US government and social media companies highlights the threats and increased opposition to disinformation researchers as free speech is citied to be infringed upon.

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An original preliminary injunction by a federal judge turned into a saga when the Biden administration appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans (packed with GOP-appointed judges), has seen another development in the disinformation campaign, this time aimed at civil society.

Reminder: The primary objective of the regulation was to prohibit any attempts to manipulate or coerce the removal, censorship, or diminishment of content on social media that encompasses constitutionally safeguarded free speech as outlined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution – specifically related to health and COVID-19, as well as the previous and upcoming US elections.

Jim Jordan, an Ohio-based representative in the United States Congress, spearheads the opposition against scientists and researchers who study conspiracy theories and disinformation online. He also claims the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump.

As the House of Representatives judiciary committee chair, Jordan leads one of three investigations into an alleged ‘censorship regime.’ This regime encompasses academic researchers, US government initiatives aimed at combating disinformation, and social media platforms. Conservatives have targeted these groups with information requests and threatened legal action.

A general response from researchers and Democratic politicians is that the impact of the ruling on online disinformation is unlikely to be immediate. However, in the long run, social media platforms might opt to scale back their moderation efforts due to concerns about potential legal and political consequences – something already seen with the Musk Twitter takeover (examples from Türkiye and on LGBTQ+ issues).

Currently, there is a lack of a uniform federal anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute that ensures consistent protection across all federal courts in the US, while the EU adopted this kind of legislation last year (previous EU concerns voiced here).