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Washington Wednesday: No getting around the truth

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WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: No getting around the truth

A federal judge’s injunction bars Biden administration officials from colluding with social media companies


The Twitter website on a laptop on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. Meta Platforms Inc.'s answer to Twitter Inc. has rocketed to 100 million users in less than a week, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg announced on Monday. Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, July 12th, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Washington Wednesday. Today: keeping the government from policing online content.

Last week on the 4th of July, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration. Judge Terry Doughty ordered the White House to stop communicating with social-media companies about content moderation. Meaning, the process of reviewing and monitoring content that users generate on online platforms, and holding it to certain standards.

REICHARD: The case stems from an investigation by the Attorneys General of Louisiana and Missouri. They looked into patterns of what appeared to be big-tech censorship during the pandemic and 2020 election.

Back in November, the AGs deposed a variety of officials, including the former COVID Czar Anthony Fauci.

Appearing in December on Fox News former AG Eric Schmitt, who is now Missouri’s junior U.S. Senator:

ERIC SCHMITT: What's clear from this depo, is that when Fauci speaks, big tech censors, and that's what this lawsuit is all about.

EICHER: And Fauci wasn’t the only one. In his injunction, Judge Doughty specified 41 people and 13 agencies as defendants. The list includes cabinet secretaries Alejandro Mayorkas and Xavier Becerra, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and President Biden himself.

REICHARD: Judge Doughty wrote that “the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario.” And that the evidence points to a “targeted suppression of conservative ideas” ranging from opposition to lockdowns to the quality of the evidence found on Hunter Biden’s laptop.

EICHER: On Sunday, the Justice Department filed a request to Judge Doughty to stay the injunction. DOJ argued that it could prevent the President from speaking about online misinformation surrounding a natural disaster, for example.

But Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry says that’s not true.

LANDRY: No one's muzzling the government. We just want, we don't want the government muzzling people.

EICHER: So what does this case mean for government involvement in social media and the First Amendment right to free speech?

Joining us now is Erick Erickson. He’s a lawyer by training, a political broadcaster, and host of the Erick Erickson Show. He’s also a contributor to WORLD Opinions.

REICHARD: Erick, good morning.

ERICK ERICKSON: Good morning!

REICHARD: In your article for WORLD Opinions, you highlight part of Judge Doughty’s injunction where he says, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’”

Can you explain the reference and what exactly the government did to assume this role?

ERICK ERICKSON, GUEST: He's referencing the George Orwell book 1984, and how essentially truths were lies and lies were truth. It was easier to control the people when they knowingly embraced lies. What he found from the government was that individuals within various agencies of the government at the cabinet level and in quasi-independent agencies did routinely reach out to social media companies and request that they either downplay people's accounts who were spreaders of misinformation or disinformation, in other words, make it so it was harder to see their tweets, or in some cases try to get tweets suspended or blocked because of supposed misinformation and disinformation. It was the government trying to, in the judge's opinion, use private companies as proxies to do what the government can't do, which is violate the First Amendment. A private company can censor anyone, it's their company. But when they're acting as agents of the government, it becomes a little bit harder for them to do.

REICHARD: Tell us what Judge Doughty’s injunction accomplishes, and why it matters now in July, 2023?

ERICKSON: So it very clearly was just about free speech issues, pure free speech issues. If the government wanted a social media company---Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, another company---to silence a voice uttering something the government believed was disinformation or misinformation, what he's saying is the government can't reach out to the companies to do that. They're prohibited from having those interactions about free speech issues. This matters because the government very clearly is concerned about misinformation and disinformation over for example, the upcoming election or, or the hypothetical scenarios of natural disasters and the like and want to engage in ongoing communications with tech companies and the judges saying you you can't do that on these issues.

REICHARD: To your point, the Justice Department made some claims about this injunction, and the ruling that is likely to follow. You heard it just a moment ago that it will get in the way of fighting misinformation in critical situations. Like natural disasters or presidential elections, for example. How do you respond to that?

ERICKSON: Well, what the Justice Department wants to do is to essentially censor people whose views they disagree with, when the reality is they could just respond and say this is not true and here's why and provide the facts. They want to do an end run around that and just make the tweets or the Facebook posts or the YouTube videos disappear, as opposed to having to respond to them. And that's the judge's point, that we shouldn't be responding to misinformation and disinformation by making it disappear. That actually just amplifies it and highlights for new audience. Instead, respond to the lies with truth. And that's the preferred option. In fact, that's the historic solution.

REICHARD: Is there anything about the way this story is being covered in the mainstream media that you see is misleading?

ERICK: Yeah, they've really focused on for example, child pornography and getting child pornography on the Internet off. For example, the FBI, the Homeland Security, and others, do reach out to social media companies and do flag bad criminal behavior like child pornography or even drug dealing. And the media would have you believe in the spin on this, that they're not going to be able to have this relationship with tech companies for anything. That's not true if you read the injunction, it only applies to free speech issues about alleged misinformation and disinformation. So child pornography is not a matter of free speech, neither is drug dealing. The government will still be able to contact technology companies based on those issues.

REICHARD: Since we’re on the topic of social media platforms, there’s been a lot of buzz about this new companion app to Instagram called Threads. It’s been positioned as an alternative to Twitter. Less than a week after going live, Mark Zuckerberg announced over 100 million sign ups. How is this new competitor likely to affect Elon Musk’s quest to make Twitter a haven for free speech that is also profitable?

ERICKSON: Well, so Twitter is struggling financially even before this comes along. In fact, Elon Musk has now fired off a cease and desist letter to Meta claiming they stole his information. He's gone after Mark Zuckerberg, he seems to be threatened by it. I don't know that Threads is a distinct threat. Twitter has a lot of public policymakers and opinion leaders discussing public policy and politics. Threads seems to be more about influencer opinion. In fact, they're, they're using it algorithmically, you can't get a chronological timeline, and they're overselling [a sss] non-social commentary on politics and life. It's more just to connect with people more more like what Facebook used to be in its origins. So they're really two different platforms, it has the potential to be very big. The thing that always made Twitter unique is that anyone could go and see public opinion makers and thought leaders in the world and interact with them and help them in real time shape their opinions. But as progressives began to dominate Twitter, they used it as a tool to silence others. Like, for example, the Hunter Biden laptop story that they thought was election collusion with the Russians. And that drove conservatives away. Well, now that Elon Musk has bought it, progressives are leaving to their own safe space. Twitter still kind of has a unique sphere where people left and right kind of get together to argue over politics but less so these days. I don't think Threads will become something like that, because the folks behind Meta and Facebook are saying they don't want it to be a place for political argument.

REICHARD: Erick Erickson is a political broadcaster and commentator for WORLD Opinions. Erick, thanks for joining us.

ERICKSON: Thank you.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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