As the new administration transitions to the White House and into other government agencies, some of these agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services—have received directives from the new administration to freeze creation of news releases, social media posts, blog entries, and official website content. On the one hand, this can be attributed to the transition of power, that the new administration wants to have a consistent message, and that they are requesting a halt on outbound communication in order to get that message in order. On the other hand, this could be seen as blatant content-based censorship.
The Supreme Court held, “content-based regulation extends not only to restrictions on particular viewpoints, but also to prohibition of public discussion of an entire topic.” Fcc v. League of Women Voters, 468 U.S. 364, (1984). The court warned that future assessments of regulation of speech should be wary of government motivation as an indication that either a particular viewpoint or entire topic is being controlled, and any content-based speech should be held to the strict scrutiny standard, i.e. narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest.
The targeted choice of agencies that were directed to remain offline, those that have involvement on issues relating to the environment and efforts to combat climate change, along with the Trump administration’s persecution of climate change and those who are involved, could suggest that this directive was motivated as a muffler to the entire topic. So it seems that unless the new administration can show this broad ban on multimedia output, including a hold on employees’ tweets, is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest, this won’t last in the long run.
Although the freeze is likely temporary, and will dissolve once the Trump administration is fully transitioned, we can only hope this tactic of speech restriction will not be utilized more often, and rather the administration upholds First Amendment freedoms.