Social Media

Jay Bhattacharya & John Vecchione: Biden's Social Media Meddling Was Illegal

Plaintiffs in Missouri v. Biden allege that federal pressure to remove and suppress COVID-19 material on Facebook and Twitter violates the First Amendment.


Today's episode is an audio version of The Reason Livestreamwhich takes place every Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern on Reason's YouTube channel.

Zach Weissmueller talked with Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine, economics, and health research policy at Stanford University, and John Vecchione of the New Civil Liberties Alliance. They are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit Missouri v. Biden, which names the president, the Justice Department, the FBI, and nearly the entire federal public health apparatus as defendants. Attorneys general for the states of Missouri and Louisiana brought the case against the federal government in May 2022 for what they describe as "open collusion with social media companies to suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content." Bhattacharya and Vecchione say that the government illegally squelched their speech throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 presidential election by pushing social media platforms to remove or minimize the reach of heterodox views on COVID-19.

In July, U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty issued a preliminary injunction ordering the federal agencies to cease meeting with social media companies for the purpose of "inducing in any manner the removal…of content containing protected free speech posted on social-media platforms." Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments challenging that injunction.

Bhattacharya and Vecchione talk with Zach about the state of the lawsuit, what a victory or loss in court would mean for free speech online, the legal limits of government–social media "partnerships," and the ways in which the government blurred the line between private content moderation and outright censorship to suppress or mislabel factual information or opinion as "misinformation" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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