January 16, 2021

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‘Problematic’ And ‘Perplexing’: European Leaders Side With Trump Over Twitter Ban

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Topline

While resolutely condemning last week’s violence in Washington, D.C., several high-profile European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have objected to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter banning the president, suggesting that it violates his right to free speech and arguing that governments, not private companies, should be in charge of regulating Big Tech.

Key Facts

Merkel, via a spokesperson Monday, said that Trump’s Twitter ban was “very problematic” and that the “fundamental right to freedom of opinion” should be determined by the rule of law and government, “not according to the decision of the management of social media platforms.”

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and a key figure in Europe’s efforts to regulate big tech, wrote in Politico that “the fact that a CEO can pull the plug on POTUS’s loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing.”

Breton said it confirmed “the power of these platforms” and highlighted the shortcomings of Washington and other governments to regulate digital space, which he said is currently “reminiscent of the Wild West.” 

Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, said he was “shocked” by Twitter’s decision to ban Trump, adding that “digital regulation should not be done by the digital oligarchy… (and) is a matter for the sovereign people, governments and the judiciary.”

Britain’s health secretary Matt Hancock said tech companies were now “taking editorial decisions,” adding that it is very clear that platforms are “choosing who should and shouldn’t have a voice on their platform.”

Key Background

Europe has taken a very different stance to regulating Big Tech than the U.S., where companies are often left to regulate themselves and typically enjoy a significant degree of legal immunity though protections like Section 230. This most recent criticism against large social media platforms could be interpreted as a warning shot and Breton, who drives some of the most significant tech reforms in the bloc, was clear that Europe also needs to do a better job at regulating the digital space. 

What To Watch For

In his Politico op-ed, Breton said “the EU and the new U.S. administration should join forces… to start a constructive dialogue leading to globally coherent principles… (and) a new global approach to online platforms.” An EU-U.S. partnership could be something to watch out for as President-elect Biden tries to rein in Big Tech. 

Crucial Quote

After a review of Trump’s recent tweets, Twitter said it felt there was a “risk of further incitement of violence” from the president, who at the time was one of the most followed people on the platform.

Further Reading

Angela Merkel attacks Twitter over Trump ban (FT)

Thierry Breton: Capitol Hill — the 9/11 moment of social media (Politico)

Twitter Shares Down 7% In Pre-Market Trading After Trump Is Permanently Banned From The Platform (Forbes)

Twitter Permanently Bans Trump (Forbes)

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