Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has sharply criticized Twitter’s decision to ban US President Donald Trump, calling it a “problematic” violation of “the fundamental right to freedom of expression.”
Twitter suspended Mr. Trump’s account last week following the riots at the Capitol, citing “repeated and serious” violations of its civic integrity policies. Facebook has taken similar steps.
But Merkel said through her spokesperson that the US government should follow Germany’s lead in passing laws that restrict online incitement, rather than leaving it to platforms. such as Twitter and Facebook to establish their own rules.
The intervention highlights a key area of disagreement between the United States and Europe over how to regulate social media platforms. The EU wants to give regulators more powers to force internet platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to remove illegal content.
In the United States, tech companies have traditionally been left on their own to monitor their own sites, though momentum is building behind policy measures to restrict their regulatory freedoms. Several members of Congress are working on bills that would limit the legal protections of social media companies from lawsuits for third-party content posted on their sites. Others are pushing for a new federal data protection bill that could mirror the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Twitter’s share price fell more than 7% on Monday to around $ 48 as investors were frightened by renewed debate over the prospect of tighter social media regulation.
Ms Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert said freedom of expression was a “fundamental right of vital importance” which could be restricted, “but only in accordance with the laws and within a framework defined by the legislator – and not by the decision of the social affairs department. media platforms ”.
He said that for this reason, the Chancellor found it “problematic” that Mr. Trump’s accounts suspended indefinitely.
Mr Seibert referred to a German online hate speech law that came into effect in 2018, putting the country at the forefront of global efforts to control the internet.
The Network Enforcement Act requires social media to remove potentially illegal content within 24 hours of notification or face fines of up to € 50 million. It is considered one of the western world’s toughest restrictions on online content.
Ms. Merkel’s criticisms of the ban were echoed by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. Mr. Mayor told France Inter Monday that he was “shocked” by Twitter’s decision. He added: “Digital regulation should not be done by the digital oligarchy itself. . . Regulation of the digital arena is the business of the sovereign people, governments and justice. “
The ban was also attacked by Alexei Navalny, the prominent Russian blogger and dissident. He called it “an unacceptable act of censorship” that would be used by the Kremlin to justify its own blacklist by state media.
“The ban on Twitter is a decision by people we don’t know in accordance with a process we don’t know,” he said in a Twitter post, adding that the decision was “based on emotions and personal political preferences “.
“This precedent will be exploited by enemies of free speech around the world,” he wrote. “In Russia too. Whenever they need to silence someone, they say, “It’s just common practice, even Trump has been blocked on Twitter.” “
Mr Navalny is recovering in Germany after being poisoned by a nerve agent in an attack he says was orchestrated by the Russian secret service.
He said if Twitter wanted to block people it could “create some kind of committee that can make such decisions.”
He added: “We need to know the names of the members of this committee, understand how it works, how its members vote and how we can appeal their decisions.”
Twitter’s decision against Mr. Trump was also condemned by Vladimir Soloviev, one of the main propagandists in Russian state media. “So it is argued that the US Constitution is inferior to the internal documents of the Twitter company?” he wrote on his Telegram channel.
“Are private companies allowed to create free zones in the US constitution?” said Soloviev, who hosts a weekly TV show devoted to what Russian President Vladimir Putin has been up to this week. “It’s not just a story about Trump.”
Meanwhile, Chechnya’s strong militant leader Ramzan Kadyrov noted that he and Mr. Trump are now united in censorship after his Facebook and Instagram accounts were blocked.
“Now I have something in common with Donald Trump: whereas before he blocked my social media accounts, now Almighty God has restored justice and, therefore, the accounts of the mutineer Donald Trump have also been blocked, ”Kadyrov wrote. on his Telegram channel.
Mr Seibert said that while opposing the outright bans, Ms Merkel had no objection to Twitter or Facebook warning users that certain content – for example, certain tweets from the US president alleging election fraud – was misleading .
He said social media companies have “a great responsibility to ensure that political communication is not poisoned by hatred, lies and incitement to violence. And it’s just that they don’t sit idly by when content is posted on some channels that fall into such categories. “
Parler, a niche Twitter rival popular among the far-right, was forced to go offline after Amazon pulled its cloud services on the platform on Sunday, citing its repeated failure to crack down on content inciting violence . This follows similar actions by Google and Apple that banned the app from their app stores over the weekend for the same reasons.
“I never thought we would live in a country. . . where you could get coordinated companies to reverse what you’re doing, ”John Matze, Managing Director of Parler, Told Fox News Monday.
He added that his “billion dollar company” had contacted other “big tech players” to find another web hosting provider, but had been turned down.
Parler, a self-proclaimed “impartial social network” that claims to defend “free speech,” received 9.6 million installs worldwide in 2020, including about 7.8 million in the United States, according to data from SensorTower.
Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey in Washington