Supreme Court Investigates Whether Governments Can Block Online Misinformation

( — On Monday, March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearings to determine how much the government can do to control online speech in the interest of combating what proponents call misinformation and disinformation. Some are concerned that the type of control that has been exerted by government bodies in online spaces has crossed the line into government suppression of legitimate free speech, which is protected in the United States by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs central to the potentially far-reaching decision are the states of Missouri and Louisiana, as well as five individuals, who claim that they were either banned or suppressed on social media platforms. Jenin Younes, who represents the individual plaintiffs, claims that the government used social media companies as proxies in order to unconstitutionally censor free speech. However, the government has argued that social media companies reached out to them to ask for guidance, in particular during the pandemic when reliable medical information seemed crucial.

The Biden administration has taken the stance that, under established First Amendment precedent, the government is also allowed free speech with which to express views and try to persuade others. The case hinges on whether their expression and persuasion techniques should be allowed to include coercing platforms to censor unapproved viewpoints. Justice Department lawyer Brian Fletcher endorses both of these positions, saying that the government is allowed to “speak for itself” but not to suppress speech.

The government says that most of the so-called coercion was simply pointing out violations of the platform’s own policies and allowing them to decide what actions, if any, to take. Mark Chenoweth, president and chief legal officer of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, says that it is not the government’s purview to be the truth police. Justic Samuel Alito has characterized the issue as antithetical to a democratic form of governance. The Supreme Court is expected to have a ruling by the end of June.

Copyright 2024,