[Editor’s Note: This opinion piece from last year has been updated as it has particular relevance this month due to a hearing in federal court in Monroe that will be handled by Liz Murrill, Attorney General Jeff Landry’s top litigator.]
Recall, a civil suit was brought several months ago by a number of states including Louisiana, by Louisiana Attorney General, Jeff Landry, in federal court in Monroe, Louisiana. The gist of the lawsuit is the relationship between the federal government and Big Tech—here, Facebook.
The next hearing on this matter takes place at the end of this month in federal court in Monroe and the legal argument will be made by Liz Murrill, AG Landry’s top litigator. (I am quite impressed with Mrs. Murrill who has defended Louisiana before the U.S. Supreme Court 5 separate times).
Most recently, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty issued an order allowing the amending of the lawsuit to include class-action allegations. Certifying a class action is a procedural decision and does not address the merits of the case itself, but if successful on the merits it could allow a wider group of people to share in a future damages award.
The legal question is one regarding freedom of speech and how these enormous social media sites choose to “moderate”—in fact, censor—the content of speech and whether, either by their own doing or as a result of pressure from the federal government, or both, the tech giants are suppressing certain speech which is virtually always conservative speech.
Judge Doughty previously ruled that full discovery requires the disclosure of additional email and other communication between Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and several of the public affairs staff at the Department of Health and Human Services.
These initial communications appeared to involve active coordination between Facebook, the largest social media company in the world, and U.S. government officials, including high-ranking White House officials.
In one example, after Pres. Biden claimed that social media sites and “Covid misinformation” were resulting in “killing people,” a senior staffer at Meta (a Facebook spinoff) sent an email to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, which stated “it’s not great to be accused of killing people” but Meta was committed to finding “a way to deescalate and work together collaboratively.”
A week later that same Meta official sent another email to Murthy stating that “I wanted to make sure you saw the steps we took just this past week to adjust policies on what we are removing with respect to misinformation.” The email concludes “…you (Surgeon General) have identified 4 specific recommendations for improvement and we want to make sure to keep you informed of our work on each.”
This is all much too cozy.
This incestuous relationship between the federal government and Facebook and Big Tech creates a toxic coordination between government and huge social media sites to suppress critical information millions of people need to make good, well-informed personal decisions. That’s irrefutable censorship of free speech.
Facebook’s presence in American society is so widespread and prevalent as to bear all the trappings of a government entity—a public utility. These emails clearly establish that Facebook is functioning as an arm of the government, a “state actor” in legal parlance, and as the functional equivalent of the Thought Police of the State. Therefore, it should be held to the same prohibitions on censorship as the government.
Facebook pretends that it is a neutral arbiter operating an information exchange platform. In fact, in March of 2020, Mark Zuckerberg stated that“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online…. Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
But they are and do.
While our 1st Amendment prohibits the suppression of speech by local, state, and federal governments, government censorship is not the only kind. Private sector suppression of speech is just as threatening and chilling. This is particularly true where Big Tech platforms become news editors and make common cause with the Deep State and the National Democrat Party.
In truth, social media has become our modern-day public forum. It’s also true that the greatest virtue of free thought and free speech is that all kinds of ideas are thrust into the rough and tumble of the marketplace of ideas where the best idea prevails. It is this collision of, this testing of, speech and thought in a free and open exchange that produces the best results—and leads the nation to wise and popular policy results on challenging national issues.
I look forward to this litigation continuing.
Royal Alexander is a Shreveport attorney.