Courtesy of Ben Schumin via flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED.

With a constant stream of information accessible at the tips of everyone’s fingers and unreliable news outlets craving attention, it is understandable that many people in positions of authority want the power to control what data is allowed to be pushed out to the public. However, the Biden administration’s efforts to contact major tech companies to limit what they deem misinformation is dangerous and sets a bad precedent in the digital world. The United States Supreme Court must rule that no executive branch member should contact major tech platforms directly regarding misinformation.

The United States was founded on the principles of protecting free speech from government encroachments. Permitting a president or any cabinet official to influence tech companies’ censorship policies for the content they deem misinformation sets a bad precedent because executive branch members have their own political allegiances. This partisan lens can blind them from looking at information from opposing viewpoints. 

The entire year of 2020 is a perfect example of how misinformation can run wild and rampant. During the pandemic, there were numerous warnings from health officials that it is absolutely essential to distance socially to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, during the Black Lives Matter protests, health officials were downplaying the risk of getting infected with coronavirus while protesting within large crowds. 

During the 2020 elections, the Trump campaign and a ludicrous amount of Republicans gleefully spread bogus claims that the elections were rigged because of mail-in voting, corrupt poll watchers, unethical Secretaries of State and a complicit media. Those lies would get high traffic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with tens of millions of views and likes. 

The Biden campaign was partly responsible for spreading lies as well. During the 2020 presidential debates, President Biden claimed that he never opposed fracking, when he did during a 2019 primary debate. Given that people from all walks of life are susceptible to consuming and spreading misinformation, it is imperative that one side does not have complete control over the flow of information. It may worsen this misinformation crisis rather than solve it.

What makes this all so dangerous is that the executive branch has the unilateral power to implement executive orders to allocate federal money to tech companies like Facebook. This incentive structure allows these tech companies to follow many of the content restrictions a presidential administration requests, initiating an unfixable chain of events where each new administration scrambles to get a strong grip on social media companies to shut down legitimate criticisms and dissent. 

If the Supreme Court doesn’t want this problem to trigger a Constitutional crisis, they need to rule that no one working in the executive branch can contact tech companies regarding misinformation. Instead, Congress should design a committee or committees filled with people from all political parties and backgrounds — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — to oversee the content spread on social media platforms. Only then will there be a balance in tracking fabricated information. The Bipartisan Committee will ensure that false content is cleared up and inconvenient truths are protected.