The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) joined together to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government to obtain records showing whether federal agencies have cut their advertising on social media as part of President Trump’s broad attack on speech-hosting websites he doesn’t like.
In May Trump issued an executive order in retaliation against platforms that exercise their constitutionally protected rights to moderate his and other users’ posts. The EO provides:
Sec. 3. Protecting Federal Taxpayer Dollars from Financing Online Platforms That Restrict Free Speech.
(a) The head of each executive department and agency (agency) shall review its agency’s Federal spending on advertising and marketing paid to online platforms. Such review shall include the amount of money spent, the online platforms that receive Federal dollars, and the statutory authorities available to restrict their receipt of advertising dollars.
(b) Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall report its findings to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
(c) The Department of Justice shall review the viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform identified in the report described in subsection (b) of this section and assess whether any online platforms are problematic vehicles for government speech due to viewpoint discrimination, deception to consumers, or other bad practices.
EFF and CDT's lawsuit seeks records, reports, and communications about the spending review to shine a light on whether agencies have stopped or reduced online ad spending, or are being required to do so, based on a platform’s editorial decisions to flag or remove posts. Although the government has broad discretion to decide where it spends its advertising dollars, reducing or denying federal dollars they previously planned to spend on certain platforms based on officials’ perception of those entities' political viewpoints violates the First Amendment.