Biden, Cruz, Trump all lobbied social media as Supreme Court hears case

In the weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, activists gathered outside the Houston home of Sen. Ted Cruz to protest his refusal to certify President Biden’s election victory — as well as his decision to jet off to Cancún on vacation during a deadly local storm.

As images of the protesters rippled across Twitter (now X), Cruz’s team called and texted people in Twitter’s D.C. office, insisting that some of their posts violated his safety and demanding that they be removed, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

“We would hear very frequently from [Cruz’s] office,” said one former employee. “They were one of the more frequent congressional offices to complain.”

For years, politicians like Cruz (R-Tex.) have tapped private contacts at social media firms to influence a range of decisions, from deleting a specific post to changing policies around hate speech, voter suppression and public health misinformation, according to more than a dozen people familiar with the tech companies’ operations, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The practice has become so routine it even has a nickname — “jawboning” — and tech companies have responded by establishing internal systems to ensure that influential users receive prompt responses, the people said. The complex rules also help guard against such requests having undue influence, the people said.

Now, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether politicians’ attempts to influence the tech giants violate the First Amendment, defining for the first time the constitutional bounds of the practice. On Monday, Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in Murthy v. Missouri, a landmark case that could define the future of free speech on social media.

The case was initiated by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, who sued the Biden administration, alleging its communications with platforms urging the removal of posts containing misinformation about the pandemic and elections amounted to illegal censorship. The Justice Department is defending the Biden administration, arguing that the Constitution permits the use of the bully pulpit to protect the public.

“This case has potential to really reshape the rules of the road here,” said Daphne Keller, who directs the program on platform regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center and is a former associate general counsel for Google. “It’s the fundamental question of how we govern what speech is and isn’t allowed on platforms and what information they’re allowed to use.”

While the case focuses on the Biden administration, politicians from both parties frequently leverage relationships to try to remove unfavorable posts, the people said. In one instance, the office of former House speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, asked Twitter to remove a post circulating his wife’s phone number. Twitter ultimately declined after staffers reviewed the tweets and found that Debbie Boehner, a real estate agent, advertised the number prominently on her own website, one of the people said. Neither Boehner nor Cruz responded to requests for comment.

Still, a legal movement has arisen to challenge what many conservatives allege is a vast liberal censorship regime. House Republicans led by Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) are investigating how tech companies handle requests from Biden administration officials, demanding thousands of documents from internet platforms. Conservatives activists also have filed lawsuits and records requests for private correspondence between tech companies and academic researchers studying election- and health-related conspiracies.

“We have uncovered substantial evidence that the Biden administration directed and coerced Big Tech companies to censor Americans’ free speech,” Jordan spokeswoman Nadgey Louis-Charles said in a…

This article was originally published by a . Read the Original article here. .

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