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Supreme Court Examines Joe Biden’s Social Media Influence as NH Voters Sue Over Deepfake Campaign

Last Updated March 20, 2024 4:38 PM
James Morales
Last Updated March 20, 2024 4:38 PM

Key Takeaways

  • The US Supreme Court is considering whether the federal government coerced social media companies into removing posts.
  • Lower courts initially ruled that federal requests to take down posts amounted to censorship.
  • Meanwhile, the creators of a deepfake robocall campaign are being sued for violating laws that protect voters from deception.

While most Americans acknowledge that truth and transparency are fundamental to a healthy democracy, there is little agreement on the rights and responsibilities of different parties that control the flow of information.

From different perspectives, 2 court cases that are currently playing out highlight democratic tensions in an era where new media forms have cast legal debates over free speech and misinformation in a new light.

Supreme Court Considers Federal Response to Social Media Misinformation

In the first case, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing a Court of Appeals decision that would have placed restrictions on the White House and federal agencies’ ability to request that social media platforms remove posts.

The legal battle was first instigated when the states of Missouri and Louisiana sued a group of federal actors, accusing them of strong-arming social media platforms into removing posts that represented conservative viewpoints.

Initially, a Louisiana judge sided with the states, ruling that federal interventions amounted to censorship and violated the 1st Amendment.

The Court of Appeals would later water down the Louisiana ruling, but it upheld the plaintiff’s central claim that the White House, the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and the FBI had unlawfully coerced social media platforms to remove posts.

However, after the government appealed the verdict, the case was elevated to the Supreme Court.

During oral arguments on Monday, the Justices considered  whether the government crossed the line from persuasion to coercion. The court also debated under what conditions government coercion is legally justified.

New Hampshire Voters Sue Fake Biden Robocall Creators

In another case that highlights legal uncertainties surrounding digitally inflected misinformation, last week, the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit  against the creators of a deepfake robocall that impersonated President Joe Biden.

After fake robocalls requested New Hampshirites not to vote, the suit was brought “to protect the right to vote free from intimidation, threats, or coercion, which was unlawfully infringed upon as a result of the actions.” 

A win for the plaintiffs could set an important precedent in the realm of AI voice impersonation, which, despite President Biden’s call for a ban on the technology, currently sits in a legal gray area.

AI and the 1st Amendment

Legal debates surrounding voter suppression are as old as the Republic itself, and for nearly 250 years, these have been framed by the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.

The 1st Amendment prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” But what counts as “speech” in the age of AI?

Supreme court judgments have extended the concept to include not just written and spoken words, but also art, demonstrations and other forms of expression. It is therefore conceivable that AI-generated content might also be included under the umbrella of protected speech.

In the New Hampshire case, it would be difficult to build a 1st Amendment defense against the complainants’ allegations that AI was used to intentionally deceive voters. But Biden’s intention to ban AI voice impersonation entirely could certainly be challenged on the grounds of protecting freedom of speech.

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