Biden Overstepped First Amendment, Google Antitrust Case Tuesday, Gigi Sohn Joins Tucows Board

September 11, 2023 – The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Friday ruled that the Joe Biden administration may have overstepped the First Amendment in coercing social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Google, to take down misinformed content.

The decision said agencies like the White House, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Centers for Disease Control had individuals in contact with “nearly every major American social-media company about the spread of ‘misinformation’ on their platforms.”

The court also noted that these social media platforms complied with requests from government officials and gave them access to “an expedited reporting system, downgraded or removed flagged posts, and deplatformed users.”

The plaintiffs in this case include three doctors, a news website, a healthcare activist as well as the state of Missouri and Louisiana, the decision said. 

The plaintiffs, who posted content about COVID-19, the federal election, lockdowns and vaccines, entered into the lawsuit against defendants including the president, his press secretary, and the surgeon general, arguing that their freedom of speech was stifled by these social media platforms. 

Government officials involved in this case have been documented as asking platforms to remove individual accounts and flagged content. In 2021, these agencies began digging into social platforms for their moderation policies as well, it was found. 

The decision also cites one White House official as having “demanded” details about Facebook’s internal policies twelve times. 

“It is true that the officials have an interest in engaging with social-media companies, including on issues such as misinformation and election interference. But the government is not permitted to advance these interests to the extent that it engages in viewpoint suppression,” the decision said. 

Justice department to present evidence against Google deals

The Department of Justice will begin presenting evidence against Google in an antitrust trial set to begin on Tuesday. 

The DOJ is claiming that, through a set of acquisitions and agreements, Google negotiated contracts with mobile providers to make themselves the default search engine. But in order for this lawsuit to hold in court, the DOJ will need to demonstrate that these negotiations were entered into illegally. 

In a pretrial hearing, Judge Amit Mehta dismissed allegations presented by the DOJ for lack of legal merit claiming that these kinds of negotiations would not prevent users from switching to other search engines.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, an industry group representing Big Tech companies, expressed the association’s opposition to the stance taken by the DOJ.

“None of the practices on trial have blocked consumers from products,” Schruers said. “Other search services such as Bing and DuckDuckGo are very much available for consumers.” 

The DOJ originally sued Google in January for violating sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and monopolizing the digital advertising space. The legislation works to prevent “monopolization, attempted monopolization, or conspiracy or combination to monopolize.”

This federal lawsuit was backed by attorneys general in California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia. 

“Google has engaged in a course of anticompetitive and exclusionary conduct that consisted of neutralizing or eliminating ad tech competitors through acquisitions; wielding its dominance across digital advertising markets to force more publishers and advertisers to use its products; and thwarting the ability to use competing products,” read a statement released in January by the DOJ.  

Lee Matheson and Gigi Sohn join Tucows board of directors

The board of internet service provider Tucows has elected Lee Matheson, a partner at Edgepoint Wealth Management, and Gigi Sohn, lawyer and telecom advocate, to its board of directors effective September 7. 

Matheson’s Edgepoint Wealth Management is one of Tucows’ largest shareholders, a press release said. 

Sohn has worked as a lawyer and broadband consumer advocate – she was previously nominated by President Biden to be an FCC commissioner before she stepped down. Prior to that she worked as a counsel to the FCC chair from 2013 to 2016 and has led numerous broadband policy organizations. 

In addition to Sohn and Matheson joining Tucows’s board, it was announced that Brad Burnham, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, will be stepping down from his position on the board, a position he has held since 2017.