Missouri v. Biden Ruling Limited by U.S. Court to a More Reasonable Slap on the Wrist techdirt.com

Hey, remember that time the Attorneys General of two U.S. states sued key members of the Biden administration, partially because of stuff that happened before the Biden administration took office? Well, after a bit of back-and-forth, the Fifth Circuit court has mostly sided in favour of the administration — but you might not know that if you read most stories about the case.

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Much of the reporting on this suggests it was a big loss for the Biden administration. The reality is that it’s a mostly appropriate slap on the wrist that hopefully will keep the administration from straying too close to the 1st Amendment line again. It basically threw out 9.5 out of 10 “prohibitions” placed by the lower court, and even on the half a prohibition it left, it said it didn’t apply to the parts of the government that the GOP keeps insisting were the centerpieces of the giant conspiracy they made up in their minds. The court finds that CISA, Anthony Fauci’s NIAID, and the State Department did not do anything wrong and are no longer subject to any prohibitions.

The full ruling (PDF) was too quickly celebrated by people — including those with generated profile pictures — as a unique “landmark on collusion”. Masnick’s analysis is more thorough and nuanced than you will find anywhere else, and well worth a fuller read. I did want to highlight one specific paragraph:

Note that in the paragraph above, the one that the 5th Circuit uses to claim that the platform polices were controlled by the CDC, it admits that the sites were reaching out to the CDC themselves, asking them for info. That… doesn’t sound coercive. That sounds like trust & safety teams recognizing that they’re not the experts in a very serious and rapidly changing crisis… and asking the experts.

It bothered me when I saw criticism of platforms for involving the CDC and Surgeon General and taking their advice. It seemed like a knock against the very idea of expertise, and a celebration of forced topical ignorance.

There are those who believe platforms should not take any moderation action against any posts made by users, but they are a fringe group and largely not worth taking seriously. The question about moderation is not if platforms should be involved, but where they should draw the line — and there are many circumstances where the answer to that will be unclear. Why would they not ask subject matter experts for their input? Platforms are still able to make their own choices about which posts are violative and what action may be taken against them. Involving experts seems like moderators are taking their responsibilities to balance expression and safety more seriously, not less — even when those experts work for the government.