In the July 6, 2023 PBS Newshour video Judge limits government's contact with social media companies after GOP states sue after about 02:00, Host Amna Nawaz begins:

..Several Republican state attorneys general argued the Biden administration went too far to suppress conservative views online. And yesterday, a judge in Louisiana agreed, issuing a sweeping and temporary ruling blocking government officials from communicating with social media companies about so-called protected speech.

Later, the US state of Louisiana's Solicitor General Hon. Liz Murrill1 discusses with host Amna Nawaz:

MURRILL: I think the First Amendment establishes where the government's lines are drawn when it comes to what the government can and cannot do, and what's shocking about this case is the revelation through 20,000 pages of documents we obtained in the early proceedings in this case that demonstrated that the government not only did not know where to draw that line but did not care.

NAWAZ: So where did you draw that line, just to press further on that? There are some exceptions in the ruling. The judge said the government can flag content about national security threats, foreign attempts to influence elections, do you think they should just be limited to that in terms of the exceptions?

MURRILL: Well I think that is speech that is not protected by the first amendment. And then there is speech that is protected by the first amendment. And the government cannot do through the backdoor what it could not do through the front door. It cannot partner with tech companies to censor people's speech it disagrees with. And that is what we discovered through -- and we are still in the early stages of this case. early stages of this case. There are probably a lot more documents to come. We've got 20,000 pages showing that from the white house through the FBI, through (SISA?), through HHS, through the CDC, that there was just a widespread problem where the government had moved from addressing speech that it disagreed with -- which it can do, by the way; it can say we do not agree with what somebody said on Facebook. They can absolutely do that. But what they cannot do is cross the line and tell through a private pipeline, tell those companies under threat and coercion that they have to take speech down.

Question: What arguments (if any) support the suggestion that the Biden Administration used "threat and coercion" when telling social media that they "have to take speech down"?

As a Solicitor General and a Lawyer (in general), Murrill's job is sometimes to argue legal points from a specific viewpoint rather than necessarily provide objective summaries. In this case I'm asking for specific supporting arguments for "threat and coercion" and "have to take speech down".

1Federalist Society biography in lieu of a Wikipedia page


2 Answers 2


The 155-page memorandum ruling on the request for the injunction may be found here, and is a bit too long to reproduce in full, but generally speaking, the allegations of "threat and coercion" are set out briefly on page 8:

Plaintiffs argue that Defendants have threatened adverse consequences to social-media companies, such as reform of Section 230 immunity under the Communications Decency Act, antitrust scrutiny/enforcement, increased regulations, and other measures, if those companies refuse to increase censorship. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields social-media companies from liability for actions taken on their websites, and Plaintiffs argue that the threat of repealing Section 230 motivates the social-media companies to comply with Defendants’ censorship requests.

Later, on page 22, it notes comments made by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki of 'the threat of "legal consequences"', as well as a 'robust anti-trust program', which - it is argued - amounts to threatening or coercive behaviour. Comments by Psaki relating to the aforementioned Section 230 are noted on page 26.

Pages 97-99 show a list of statements that the Court has found "demonstrate that Plaintiffs can likely prove that White House Defendants engaged in coercion to induce social-media companies to suppress free speech."

These include the following, to cherry-pick a few examples:

  • Accused Facebook of causing “political violence” by failing to censor false COVID-19 claims.

  • Wanting to know why Alex Berenson had not been kicked off Twitter because Berenson was the epicenter of disinformation that radiated outward to the persuadable public. “We want to make sure YouTube has a handle on vaccine hesitancy and is working toward making the problem better. Noted that vaccine hesitancy was a concern. That is shared by the highest (‘and I mean the highest’) levels of the White House”

  • White House Press Secretary Psaki stated: “we are in regular touch with these social-media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff, but also members of our COVID-19 team. We're flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation. Psaki also stated one of the White House's “asks” of social-media companies was to “create a robust enforcement strategy”

  • White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield's announcement that “the White House is assessing whether social-media platforms are legally liable for misinformation spread on their platforms, and examining how misinformation fits into the liability protection process by Section 230 of The Communication Decency Act"

  • 4
    I'm skeptical of the claim that a threat of changes in laws by the Legislative branch amounts to government coercion behind the disires expressed in correspondence by officials in the Executive branch. But the statements on pp. 97-99 smell like a smoking gun. I guess we'll see which of the parties and which actions/communications specific survive the trial itself and any appeals. If this court case itself is "demoted" or censored, that's when I shoul probably worry.
    – david
    Jul 6, 2023 at 17:28
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    @david the Federal government (Executive branch via regulations, and Congress via laws) regularly coerces state governments by threatening to withhold grant money unless states do what the Feds want. "Raise the drinking age or we won't give you money", for example.
    – RonJohn
    Jul 6, 2023 at 18:25
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    @RonJohn, Sure. But the Federal Government doesn't (or atleast shouldn't) coerce or curb speech from states, even free speech that it doesn't agree with. Indeed, if anything, it's the federal government's job to ensure that that never happens. Only if a state is attempting to violate the rights of citizen's free speech (even misinformation) should the government step in and say that it will withhold such-and-such funding until those laws are repealed or those actions reversed.
    – ouflak
    Jul 7, 2023 at 12:31
  • @RonJohn, I think you may be trying to make equivalent federal policies to constitutional rights. They are not the same thing.
    – ouflak
    Jul 7, 2023 at 12:37
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    @RonJohn The difference is that the laws like that typicaly say "a state must have a law that says X, or it won't get such-and-such a grant". Here, the social media companies were told "you need to have an internal policy that says X, and follow it, or Congress might change the law in certain ways." Since the First Amendment actually begins "Congress shall make no law...", I can see an argument that the case isn't ripe until Congress actually passes such a law (or repeal) and the President signs it.
    – david
    Jul 7, 2023 at 17:49

coerce: use of force, intimidation or authority, to obtain compliance

I would ague Government used their authority to intimidate social media. Looking at the Twitter files it shows it wasn't limited to Biden government but also Trumps:

  • FBI and CIA (both part of U.S. government) were in regular contact with: Twitter, Yahoo!, Twitch, Cloudfare, LinkedIn, even Wikimedia
  • having officials regularly making request could be seen as using 'authority' to make twitter do what they wanted
  • "memos from Twitter personnel who’d liaised with Biden administration officials who were “very angry” that Twitter had not deplatformed more accounts."
  • White House, under Trump, tried to have one of Teigen's tweets, critical of him, deleted
  • Twitter took in requests from everyone — Treasury, HHS, NSA, FBI, DHS, etc. — and also received personal requests from politicians like Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, who asked to have journalist Paul Sperry suspended.
  • Hmm... this is interesting. I wonder if Twitter established a pattern of accepting removal requests argued by both administrations and did not resist or object to any great degree, then I wonder if, rather than coercion, it might be argued (successfully or not) that this was just doing business as usual. Obviously I'm not a lawyer, but this "bipartisan coercion" has some interesting aspects.
    – uhoh
    Jul 7, 2023 at 10:17
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    @uhoh, I don't think 'bipartisan' really matters here. If it's coercion, it's coercion, even it's an independent like me doing it.
    – ouflak
    Jul 7, 2023 at 12:34
  • None of that amounts to "intimidation"
    – ajd138
    Jul 7, 2023 at 14:05
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    @ajd138 sure it does, since Twitter (and Meta, Google, etc) all know that the Feds have the power to regulate them. The intimidation is implied.
    – RonJohn
    Jul 7, 2023 at 14:54
  • @ajd138 responding angrily and demanding to have an immediate answer as to why their (white house and feds) demands were not followed is clear intimidation by any reasonable standard. In their goal to limit "misinformation" (much of which ended up being true), they grossly overstepped and used a sneaky and probably illegal workaround to the 1st A. and are rightly getting slapped for it now.
    – eps
    Jul 7, 2023 at 15:28

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