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Today’s Supreme Court Hearing Addresses a Far-Right Bogeyman

by Alexander
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Today’s Supreme Court Hearing Addresses a Far-Right Bogeyman

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that will determine whether the government can communicate with social media companies to report misleading or harmful content on social platforms — or talk to them at all. And much of the case revolves around Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

In Murthy vs. MissouriAttorneys general from Louisiana and Missouri, as well as several other individual plaintiffs, allege that government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), have forced social media platforms to censor voice-related speech. against Covid-19, election misinformation and the Hunter Biden laptop conspiracy, among others.

In a rack Released in May 2022, when the case was first filed, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt alleged that members of the Biden administration “conspired with social media companies like Meta, Twitter and YouTube to remove truthful information with covering the lab leak theory, mask efficacy, election integrity and more.” (The laboratory leak theory has largely done this debunkedand most evidence points to Covid-19 derived from animals.)

While the government doesn’t necessarily have to put its thumb on the free speech scale, there are areas where government agencies have access to important information that can (and should) help platforms make moderate decisions, says civil liberties director David Greene at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights organization. The foundation has filed an amicus brief on the case. “The CDC should be able to notify platforms if it believes truly dangerous public health information is being posted on those platforms,” he said. “The question they need to think about is: how can we inform without forcing them?”

In the heart of the Murthy vs. Missouri The case is the issue of coercion versus communication, or whether any form of government communication is a form of coercion at all, or ‘jawboning’. The outcome of the case could have a radical impact on how platforms moderate their content, and what kind of input or information they can use in doing so – which could also have a major impact on the spread of conspiracy theories online.

In July 2023, a federal judge from Louisiana consolidated the initial Missouri vs. Biden thing together with another thing, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Children’s Health Defense, et al. v. Bidenaround the Murthy vs. Missouri case. The judge too issued an order which meant that the government could no longer communicate with platforms. The order was later modified by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which carved out with some exceptions, especially when it involved third parties such as the Stanford Internet Observatory, a research lab at Stanford that studies the internet and social platforms and flags content to platforms.

Children’s Health Defense (CHD), an anti-vaccine nonprofit organization, was previously chaired by current presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The group was banned from Meta’s platforms in 2022 for spreading health misinformation, such as that the tetanus vaccine causes infertility (which it does not), against company policy. A CHD spokesperson referred WIRED to a press release, with a statement from the organization’s president, Mary Holland, saying, “As CHD’s chairman on leave, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. notes, our Founding Fathers included the right to free speech in the First Amendment because all other rights depend on it. In his words: ‘A government that has the power to silence its critics has permission for every form of cruelty.’

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