US Court Victory Against Online Censorship

A judge in Louisiana has barred the F.B.I. and other government agencies from asking social media companies to suppress free speech, reports Joe Lauria.

Courthouse of the U.S. District Court-Western District Louisiana in Shreveport.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday issued a temporary injunction against a number of government agencies preventing them from talking to social media firms for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled that the agencies couldn’t identify specific social media posts to be taken down or ask for reports about the social media company’s efforts to do so.

Exceptions could only be made when dealing with crime, national security threats or foreign or domestic attempts to influence elections, however.  That would seem to leave the determination of national security and foreign influence up to the government agencies themselves, without the apparent need of an investigation or evidence. 

The ruling was made in the case of a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri. The Biden administration is expected to appeal the decision.  

Reporting of the Twitter Files over the past few months revealed that the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, among other agencies, routinely contacted Twitter to request that specific tweets be taken down.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that is illegal for government to ask a private company to suppress free speech.  

The ruling in Louisiana names specific officials in various agencies that are barred from contacting social media firms for the purpose of getting content taken down.

Among the individuals named in the injunction are Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary; Alejandro Mayorkas, director of Homeland Security; as well as various officials in the State Department; the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unhappy NYT

Entrance to The New York Times. (Niall Kennedy, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The New York Times was not happy about the judge’s decision. In what is presented as a news story, the Times paints the issue in partisan terms, reporting incorrectly that Republicans alone are concerned about government-social media collusion and what it means for free speech.  

The newspaper said:

“Republicans accuse the government of inappropriately working with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to censor critics and say the platforms disproportionately take down right-leaning content. Democrats say the platforms have failed to adequately police misinformation and hateful speech, leading to dangerous outcomes, including violence.”

The lead paragraph in the Times story warns that the ruling “could curtail efforts to combat false and misleading narratives about the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.”  

The newspaper warns that, “Courts are increasingly being forced to weigh in on the issue — with the potential to upend decades of legal norms that have governed speech online.”  

It has never been a legal norm for the government to press social media companies — which have not been around for decades — to take down user content.

The Times takes a glaringly clear Democratic Party line, complaining that, “The Republican majority in the House has taken up the cause, smothering universities and think tanks that have studied the issue with onerous requests for information and subpoenas.”

The paper casts doubts on clear First Amendment violations being instigated by government agencies, saying:

“Since acquiring Twitter last year, Elon Musk has pushed a similar argument, releasing internal company documents to chosen journalists suggesting what they claimed was collusion between company and government officials. Though that remains far from proven, some of the documents Mr. Musk disclosed ended up in the lawsuit’s arguments.”  

Every reporter at The New York Times was “chosen” by the newspaper’s management.  And there is little doubt that the Twitter Files have conclusively proven that U.S. government actors got private actors to censor people’s free speech because the government cannot legally do so on its own. 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe     

39 comments for “US Court Victory Against Online Censorship

  1. Robert Emmett
    July 6, 2023 at 07:59

    I’m no legal expert, lord knows, but I have to wonder whether the Court will allow exceptions for gov’t agencies, mass corporate media & ideological posses to identify & round-up Marxists & socialists & kick them out of the country?

    • vinnieoh
      July 6, 2023 at 10:13

      Given that any speech that is critical of capitalism or corporatism is “officially” characterized as “an existential threat” to the American way of life, then yes, as Judy Tanuda (sp?) says – “It could happen!” Our existential national security, don’t you know.

      • Robert Emmett
        July 7, 2023 at 12:18

        Right. As Matt Taibbi & Walter Kirn discuss on “America This Week”, government lawyers in the case filing refer to what is supposed to be protected free speech, that is our thoughts & comments on line, as “critical infrastructure” that agencies need to be able to re-align or repave or rebuild, I guess, through unaccountable channels of censorship of social media to protect our security. Balderdash!

        • Robert Emmett
          July 7, 2023 at 14:15

          Sorry, that’s “cognitive infrastructure” ie. our thoughts & words

  2. SH
    July 5, 2023 at 22:06

    So will free speech rights be granted to AI – CU gave them to Corps …

    • SH
      July 6, 2023 at 08:59

      Note: hxxps://

  3. Larry Roth
    July 5, 2023 at 20:45

    Curious. Is there comparable outrage about Republican efforts to ban books, censor school curriculums, ban drag shows, making it illegal for doctors to discuss certain healthcare procedures with their patients, and otherwise use the power of government to control speech?

    Conversely, what about the power of corporations to freely spread misinformation to protect their profits at the expense of the public, as say the tobacco companies did about smoking, or fossil fuel companies do about climate change?

  4. sanford sklansky
    July 5, 2023 at 18:36

    It us too bad that Musk is considered the free speech advocate considering the way is handling Twitter. For many it is not all about freedom of the press. From what I have read he is pretty thin skinned when it comes to people critical of him. Once again it is not all about free speech. I am sure that the majority of the public are unware of what is going on.

  5. firstpersoninfinite
    July 5, 2023 at 15:02

    Since the IRS sent someone to Matt Taibbi’s house while he was testifying before Congress to “ask” him about something they had never mentioned to him over the three years’ prior, there’s a good chance that the government, indeed, has crossed the Rubicon. But don’t worry, they only do it for our own good. The government “protecting” its citizens from “disinformation” is like a Mafia protection racket: the violent interlopers are those who are also taking your tax dollars for endless wars that are never declared to be wars by Congress.

  6. Vera Gottlieb
    July 5, 2023 at 14:12

    Legal…illegal…it all depends on who is holding the purse.

  7. Maricata
    July 5, 2023 at 14:09

    What the US does, and they did it during WWI quite a bit, is farm out the unconstitutional processes that they use to other countries, specifically Britian.

    Britain has no nasty Constitution.

    During the Cold War I.O. and before, the US used the British to spy on every Jewish person within the United States.

    And they did, running an office out of NY.

    Read John Loftus, The Secret War Against the Jews for the role of Philby, the CIA, OSS and of course the British MI6.

    Jesus Angleton was blackmailed over this by the Israelis.

    Farming out the unconstitutional is the real off-shoring.

    As an attorney I think the decision wise; however, it is far too little and far to late.

  8. Cara
    July 5, 2023 at 12:03

    The corruption of The New York Times never fails to amaze. As Greenwald has been saying for years: “however much contempt you have for corporate media it is never enough.” Thank you for this succinct report!

  9. July 5, 2023 at 11:38

    Yeah to leave “national security threats” as an unqualified justification implies the ruling means nothing.
    National security would be understandable in very particular circumstances. But since national security is completely conflated with special interests, it might as well read “except for crime, foreign attempts to manipulate elections, and special interests.”

    Also no suprise the NY Times sees this in terms of the football game mentality. It’s all about them versus the deplorables.

  10. Robert Emmett
    July 5, 2023 at 11:37

    As the Worm Turns

    Episode 365/

    Grey Lady, in shabby raiment, burrows deeper into muck of composted bullshite she herself has deposited

  11. Vera Gottlieb
    July 5, 2023 at 11:28

    An encouraging glimmer of hope…

  12. Caliman
    July 5, 2023 at 11:13

    As others have noted, the allowed “exceptions” are wide enough to ride a tank through, which the FBI etc. will surely do. I hope the admin does in fact challenge this, because higher courts, esp the SC may actually improve the ruling. In fact, the original plaintiffs should challenge the ruling’s exceptions.

    That this pathetic so-called defense of the first amendment was objected to (!) by the “newspaper of record” tells you all you need to know about the current state of legacy news … in other words, our parrot may object to having the Times be used to line the bottom of his cage …

  13. July 5, 2023 at 10:29

    If the Deep State does not reverse this, it will be much more difficult to subvert the electoral process, but certainly not impossible given it’s incestuous relationship with the corporate media. Unfortunately, it’s only a temporarily hopeful sign, … at best.

    • Barbara
      July 5, 2023 at 15:19

      Lincoln shut down over 300 northern publications because they supported the States right to seceded from the Union. Many elected officials, state and federal, were jailed because they spoke out against Lincoln’s war.
      Speaking out against Lincoln was not allowed.

  14. vinnieoh
    July 5, 2023 at 10:19

    Yes, a loophole large enough to drive an invading army through.

    And yes, noteworthy that this was done in deep red states under the rubric that the media is left leaning and is suppressing conservative viewpoints. A bit much to swallow, isn’t it?

    It is more accurate to say, or legally charge that: the current executive branch is attempting to control the narrative and suppress its critics. Dragging in the false narrative of a “left leaning” media is as bogus as the day is long.

    Remember please that same thing was done during the tenure of George W. Bush in the pursuit of the illegal invasion of Iraq. The “other team” – same result.

  15. DMCP
    July 5, 2023 at 08:17

    Yes, it is refreshing when the courts make a ruling on the side of free speech. Feels a little funny when it’s initiated by the attorneys general of a couple of deep-red states. But that goes to show how little practical use there is in the old left-wing/right-wing paradigm. The left wing has simply withered into nothing;

    • Tim N
      July 5, 2023 at 10:50

      There is no “left-wing/right-wing paradigm.” There is a right-wing, and there is a “center”-right wing, which includes virtually all Dems in the Congress. What we have are right-wing reactionary Dems trying to scrub speech that offends them politically, which includes anything even vaguely left. Both Parties’ leaders and their media mouthpieces rail on endlessly about the evils of Socialism and communism. The Capitalists and imperialists know who their enemies are.

    • LarcoMacro
      July 5, 2023 at 14:35

      Interesting that the Biden administration must appeal the decision to CA-5 (TX, LA, MS), which has routinely handed down decisions that progressives have vehemently criticized in the past.

  16. John R Moffett
    July 5, 2023 at 07:51

    That document was written by sociopathic people. For example, they claim that a “democracy” needs a free press, only to go on and describe how the “press” needs to be captured and turned into an anti-democratic war-boosting propaganda system. It takes truly sick minds to be that hypocritical.

    They also claim without evidence that Russia and China are evil as their starting premise. I notice that sick people always start arguments with false premises that they never discuss.

    • July 5, 2023 at 15:32

      Yes, all those false premises are accepted as a priori truth, never questioned or examined by most. As for accepted / mouthed principles- like ‘free speech’ – those are to be interpreted however the power establishment sees fit. As there is almost no one, at least in the main stream media, to question (much less challenge) such things- they can do it all with impunity.

  17. RWilson
    July 5, 2023 at 03:36

    Exceptions – “foreign or domestic attempts to influence elections”

    Domestic attempts to influence elections could include all domestic discussion of election issues. Very broad “exception”.
    Nevertheless, a step in the right direction.

    Jimmy Carter said we are living under an “oligarchy of unbridled greed”. Unbridled means no limits. Thus the public is robbed and killed through manufactured economic crises and wars. The evidence is overwhelming that the NYT is a tool of that oligarchy. Virtually nothing they say on matters of importance can be trusted.

    • John R Moffett
      July 5, 2023 at 07:43

      The NYT and all the rest of the rotten-to-the-core corporate-owned media are one of the main problems facing society today. You get 24/7 pro-capital, pro-war, anti-worker propaganda, and unfortunately it works on most people, including the people in government. If everyone would stop watching and reading their crap, things might just get better. But I have found that many people are addicted to corporate -owned news, and couldn’t stop going there even if they tried. I haven’t gone there in decades and it really helps with understanding the world as it is, rather than how they would like you to think it is.

    • Tim N
      July 5, 2023 at 10:53

      Yeah, that’s a BIG exception that both Parties can drive a runaway train through. They love to talk about “national security,” and how virtually everything one says is a threat to it.

    • Piotr Berman
      July 5, 2023 at 21:04

      It shows that “Republican leaning” judges tend to be every bit as statist as “Democratic leaning” (whimsically called “left leaning”), but when their own ox was gored, they woke up to the existence of the 1st Amendment (unlike their perpetual attention to 2nd Amendment). Actual critics of the combination of foreign war, ever increasing sanctions and nefarious influence in politics of other countries with a sprawling apparatus of government organizations like NED, NGOs etc. were subjected to censorship in monopolistic social media for years, but Democrats crossed the Rubicon attacking Republicans, hardly a powerless victim. One can hope that actual non-conformists will see some relief as well, and it will put breaks on even more sinister censorship, like banks refusing to maintain or open accounts for non-conformists (applied to Nigel Farage, and with a prospect of being applied to outfits like Consortium News, or even independent political movements aiming to participate in primaries and elections).

      Even Espionage Act was unleashed on Trump. Democrats broke bipartisan consensus that it is OK to use it against malcontents and whistle blowers from the margins of political spectrum. Regardless of morality (which sketchily applied before), politically it is playing with fire. It is part of a larger unappetizing pile of natural fertilizers. First, people who control DNC want to have controllable presidential candidates. In last two election cycles they succeeded with the cost of having highly unpopular and, in the case of Biden, highly inept standard bearer for the party. To make up for that, they unleashed tools of public manipulation with much fewer restraints than before. E.g. silencing the discussion on Hunter’s laptop and related topics, persistence of Russia-gate misinformation and so on.

    • Eddy Schmid
      July 6, 2023 at 02:13

      O.M.G. Who in their right minds, even reads the N.Y.T. let alone place any creditability in anything that dirty rag prints ??

  18. hodgicus
    July 4, 2023 at 21:01

    WaPo was worse

  19. lester
    July 4, 2023 at 18:01

    If the NYT etc., are really so worried about misinformation about Covid 19, etc., why don’t they promote critical thinking? Promote training in critical thinkig?
    If they just don’t want to deal with dissident political or social opinions, a little study of history will show that “liberals” are infallible as Balaam’s ass: when they Almighty spoke through the donky’s mouth, it was infallible. Otherwise, not so.

  20. Lois Gagnon
    July 4, 2023 at 18:00

    It’s so refreshing when the courts actually work on behalf of the public at large rather than the political class which is obsessed with controlling our every thought and word.

  21. Afdal
    July 4, 2023 at 17:07

    “foreign attempts to influence elections” <- Good luck pinning that definition down with any kind of coherent consistency. Looks like the door has been left wide open for continued government-sponsored social media censorship.

  22. July 4, 2023 at 16:18

    “Exceptions could only be made when dealing with crime, national security threats or foreign attempts to influence elections, however.”

    Translation: the ruling has gaping loopholes intentionally baked into it that government authorities will almost certainly exploit to their fullest extent, making it count for very little or nothing.

    In a constitutional republic that ostensibly cherishes its First Amendment, there should be no such thing as state-defined restrictions on the spread of “mis-, dis-, or mal-information,” irrespective of where it emanates from, what purpose it is deployed on behalf of, or whether there is a hidden agenda behind it. (Also, the compromise that is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is imperfect but exceedingly underrated, with few to no better alternatives that I have seen, especially the ones that get trumpeted most often – see Mike Masnick, “Hello! You’ve Been Referred Here Because You’re Wrong About Section 230 Of The Communications Decency Act,” Techdirt, June 23, 2020.)

    • Patrick Powers
      July 4, 2023 at 20:19

      “Our government provides the strongest possible national defense. Anything that deviates from our positions reduces needed unity, thus weakening such defense. Such deviationism is a threat to national security. We must retaliate with the strongest measures.”

      • July 4, 2023 at 20:51

        That sounds like it could be a quote in Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall’s (tongue-in-cheek, reverse-engineerable) article “How to Run Wars: A Confidential Playbook for the National Security Elite,” recently published in Vol. 27, No. 4 of The Independent Review (Spring 2023).

      • Daedalus
        July 5, 2023 at 10:39

        Sounds like ‘Big Brother’ to me.

      • July 5, 2023 at 15:38

        Yes. National Defense / national security is the coverall justification for doing anything the government wants. Virtually anything they wish to censor or otherwise proscribe could be ultimately deemed by them a threat to national security these days. It is hard to not see this period as the height of Orwellian fears. Then again, we know it can and likely will get worse without a public that wakes up to the dystopia slide.

    • Maricata
      July 5, 2023 at 14:11

      It is Kabuki theatre, really.

      The gaping holes in the wording of the document belies its true intent: to make it seem that order and the rule of law weigh something in the US.

      Good ruling, but it will have no impact on continuing surveillance.

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