Leaders in Germany, France disagree with Twitter’s banning of Trump

Following Twitter and Facebook banning President Donald Trump last week, France and Germany have both gone after the social media sites as they and the rest of Europe are engaged in their own fight against big technology companies across the pond.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself does not have a personal Twitter account, opposed the move to ban Trump following Wednesday’s deadly Capitol riot, saying that private corporations shouldn’t dictate the rules for speech but rather that legislators should.

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“The chancellor sees the complete closing down of the account of an elected president as problematic,” her top spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said at a Berlin press conference, per Bloomberg. Rights such as freedom of speech “can be interfered with, but by law and within the framework defined by the legislature—not according to a corporate decision.”

When asked about Twitter’s move, Seibert said, per the Associated Press, that those who run social media platforms “bear great responsibility for political communication not being poisoned by hatred, by lies and by incitement to violence.”

The spokesman said it’s right not to “stand back” when such content is posted, for example by flagging it.

However, Seibert said, too, that the freedom of opinion is a fundamental right of “elementary significance.”

“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators—not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” he said. “Seen from this angle, the chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked.”

Germany is well-known for its strict anti-hate speech laws online. In 2017, the country’s Network Enforcement Act came into effect, which forces social network platforms to remove hate speech within set timeframes as short as 24 hours for easy cases—facing fines as large as to €50 million if they fail to do so, according to TechCrunch. It recently beefed up this law.

In particular, the country since its post-war denazification has taken a hardline against Nazis.

Former U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, in response to the news of these comments, tweeted: “Germany sees what’s happening in the US as problematic. Let that sink in…..”

The government of French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a similar sentiment as the longtime German chancellor.

Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said he was “shocked” to see a private company make such an important decision. “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO,” he told Bloomberg TV on Monday. “There needs to be public regulation of big online platforms.”

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said previously that the government should dictate regulations, rather than “the digital oligarchy,” and labeled big tech “one of the threats” to democracy, per Bloomberg.

Europe has been waging its own war against big tech, with the European Union presently trying to put in place regulations that would give it the power to break up companies that don’t follow its rules.

Twitter last week banned Trump’s account, saying his tweets were a “risk of further incitement of violence.”

This follows in the footsteps of Facebook, whose CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said Trump’s most recent posts indicated that he intended to use his remaining time as president to undermine a peaceful and lawful transition of power.

This also comes as Amazon, Google, and Apple have removed the social media app Parler, which many conservatives have been gravitating toward amid their growing frustration with big tech and speech, from their app stores.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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