World's Smallest Silver Lining: FDA still allowed to combat disinformation on social media

A few days ago, a federal Trump-appointed district court judge in Louisiana ruled that the federal government is no longer allowed to fight disinformation online in a devastating ruling:

District Court Judge Terry Doughty, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that bars several federal departments and agencies from various interactions with social media companies.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a notice that it will appeal the injunction with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The government also expects to ask the court to stay the district judge's decision, meaning it would not go into effect while the appeal is heard.

The case, brought by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, addresses what has become a highly contested subject: the demands by some conservatives for "free speech" on social media platforms, versus the desire to rein in misinformation and disinformation that could lead to real-world harm.

The AGs' argument ties into a larger Republican narrative that conservatives are being censored on social media for their views. Democrats have faulted the platforms for not doing enough to police misleading and false claims, hate speech, and incitement to violence.

"It's hard to think of a more sweeping ruling," says Evelyn Douek, an expert on the regulation of online speech and a professor at Stanford Law School.

This is extremely concerning to be sure for a long list of reasons. However, there's an (admittedly tiny) bit of good news, as reported by Jessica Karins at Inside Health Policy:

FDA officials are not included among the many members of the Biden administration that will be barred from communicating with social media companies about misinformation on health issues and other topics that they believe should be removed from platforms, under an injunction in a Louisiana court that includes multiple agencies and officials being sued for alleged First Amendment violations.

...The order specifically targets HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and their employees, including HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, NIAID Director Hugh Auchincloss, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and others.

...The plaintiffs did not pursue preliminary injunctions against some federal agencies named in the complaint, including FDA. Doughty’s judgment says the plaintiffs confirmed at oral argument that they were not pursuing injunctions against these agencies but does not specify why.

Unlike many other agency heads, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf is not a named defendant.

Califf has in the past said combatting misinformation is an FDA priority and named it as a “leading cause of death” in the United States. In its public calendar, FDA noted that senior advisor Beth Fritsch and Alexander Wohl, a speechwriter for Califf, met June 16 with representatives of “several health-related organizations interested in medical misinformation.”

It's admittedly kind of strange that they would include HHS Secretary, the CDC and the NIAID but not the FDA, but I guess I have to take positive news where I can find it...