Attorney General James Leads Multistate Coalition Defending States’ Ability to Protect Americans Online

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James led a multistate coalition of 23 attorneys general today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the government’s ability to work and communicate with social media companies to address the spread of dangerous content on their platforms. The coalition filed an amicus brief with the court in the case of Murthy v. Missouri, urging the Supreme Court to reverse a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that prevents the important exchange of information between the federal government and social media companies about harmful content on their platforms.

“An open exchange of information between public authorities and social media platforms is critical to keeping people safe online,” said Attorney General James. “If upheld, this decision would make it harder to stop the spread of dangerous misinformation, scams, and harmful content that puts Americans at risk. I’m grateful that my fellow attorneys general have joined in this effort to defend states’ ability to work collaboratively with social media companies and protect our most vulnerable residents.”  

In May 2022, Missouri, Louisiana, and several individuals brought a lawsuit against various federal officials and agencies regarding communications between the federal government and social media companies about misinformation on the companies’ platforms related to topics like COVID-19. In July 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction effectively barring any communications between many federal government officials and social media companies concerning the platforms’ content-moderation decisions. In a September ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit largely upheld the district court’s sweeping injunction, preventing the federal government and social media companies from exchanging information about harmful content on their platforms.

Government agencies at the local and state levels regularly collaborate with private companies, particularly around issues that concern public health and safety and to stop the spread of dangerous misinformation online. The coalition’s brief highlights numerous examples of successful collaboration between state governments and online platforms. Examples cited include the Office of the New York Attorney General’s (OAG) work with social media companies to identify and remove content from the May 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York; OAG’s efforts with Amazon to stop online sellers from engaging in price gouging during the COVID-19 public-health emergency; and multistate efforts with social media companies to protect children from online predators, cyberbullying, and inappropriate content, and to call for more robust parental controls.

As the coalition of attorneys general argues, state officials and online platforms have mutually beneficial relationships built on voluntary exchanges of information, recommendations, and guidance — which the Fifth Circuit erroneously conflated with impermissible government coercion. Upholding the Fifth Circuit’s ruling would set a dangerous precedent that could hinder states’ abilities to encourage social media companies to limit content that often violates the platforms’ own content-moderation policies, including scams that target vulnerable populations, violent images or videos, or dangerous public health misinformation.

Joining Attorney General James in filing the amicus brief are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

This amicus brief is the latest example of Attorney General James taking action to protect people online. Earlier in December, Attorney General James joined a multistate coalition urging the Supreme Court to ensure states have authority to regulate social media platforms. In October, Attorney General James and a bipartisan coalition sued Meta for harming young people’s mental health and contributing to the youth mental health crisis. Also in October, Attorney General James advanced legislation with Governor Kathy Hochul, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, and Assemblymember Nily Rozic to help keep children safe online and prevent dangerous health consequences of addictive social media platforms. In October 2022, Attorney General James investigated and released a report on the role online platforms played in the Buffalo mass shooting. In May 2021, Attorney General James joined a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general urging Facebook to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Solicitor General Anthony R. Raduazo, Assistant Solicitor General Grace X. Zhou, Deputy Solicitor General Judith N. Vale, and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, all of the Division of Appeals and Opinions.