Since acquiring Twitter last year, Elon Musk has echoed Republican arguments, releasing internal company documents to chosen journalists suggesting what they claimed was collusion between company and government officials. Though that remains far from proven, some of the documents Mr. Musk disclosed ended up in the lawsuit’s arguments.
The defendants, the social media companies and experts who study disinformation have argued that there is no evidence of a systematic effort by the government to censor individuals in violation of the First Amendment. David Rand, an expert on misinformation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his understanding was that the government had at most a limited impact on how social media platforms engaged with misinformation.
At the same time, emails and text messages made public in the case that Judge Doughty ruled on have shown instances where officials complained to social media executives when influential users spread disinformation, especially involving the coronavirus pandemic.
The states said in their lawsuit that they had a “sovereign and proprietary interest in receiving free flow of information in public discourse on social-media platforms.”
In addition to the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general, the case was brought by four other plaintiffs: Jayanta Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, epidemiologists who questioned the government’s handling of the pandemic; Aaron Kheriaty, a professor dismissed by the University of California, Irvine, for refusing to have a coronavirus vaccination; Jill Hines, a director of Health Freedom Louisiana, an organization that has been accused of disinformation; and Jim Hoft, founder of Gateway Pundit, a right-wing news site. The four additional plaintiffs said social media sites removed some of their posts.
Although the lawsuit named as defendants President Biden and dozens of officials in 11 government agencies, some of the instances cited took place during the Trump administration.
Judge Doughty, who was appointed to the federal court by President Donald J. Trump in 2017, has been sympathetic to conservative cases, having previously blocked the Biden administration’s national vaccination mandate for health care workers and overturned its ban on new federal leases for oil and gas drilling.