There is a word for government officials using the threat of punishment to extort desired behaviors from private actors. It's jawboning
The term arose from the biblical story of Samson, who is said to have slain a thousand enemies with the jawbone of a donkey. According to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, the word's public-policy use began with the World War II–era Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, which primarily relied on "verbal condemnation" to punish violators. President John F. Kennedy jawboned steel manufacturers in the 1960s when he threatened to have the Department of Justice investigate them if they raised prices; President Jimmy Carter did the same to try to fight inflation in the 1970s. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Republican candidate George W. Bush explicitly stated that he would "jawbone" Saudi Arabia to secure lower energy prices.
has generally referred to economic activity—to attempts to intimidate other entities into changing prices or policies—there is a history of speech-related jawboning too. One of the first legal theorists to apply the term this way was Derek Bambauer, a professor of law at the University of Arizona. In a 2015 article for the Minnesota Law Review,
he argued that libertarian trends in internet regulation provide unique protection from government actors, who would be likely to resort to threats and demands.
"State regulators wielding seemingly ineffectual weapons—informal enforcement based on murky authority—appear outgunned," he wrote. "Yet like Samson, they achieve surprisingly-effective results once the contest begins."
This has been the case throughout the pandemic. With encouragement from government health advisers, congressional leaders, and White House officials—including Biden—multiple social media companies have suppressed content that clashes with the administration's preferred narratives.
Bambauer says that while Biden clearly has the right to complain about material on social media, the administration's actions are probably blurring the line between counterspeech and jawboning.
"I think all of this is of real concern," he says.
"It's also a useful reminder that the government innovates in how it applies information pressures, so researchers need to stay up to date on new tactics."