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.
“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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Cuomo says he’ll ‘fully cooperate’ with NY AG’s review of sexual harassment claims
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he will “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s independent review into sexual harassment allegations made against the currently scandal-ridden governor, saying, “I fully support a woman’s right to come forward.”
Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, who served in his administration for over three years, accused Cuomo of suggesting to her on a 2017 flight that they play strip poker, inappropriate touching, and kissing her on the lips without her consent.
Following Boylan’s accusations, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged the governor indicated interest in having an affair with her while she was serving in his administration as a health policy adviser. In a Saturday New York Times report, Bennett told the newspaper that Cuomo asked her if she had “ever been with an older man,” adding that “age doesn’t matter” in relationships.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, the Empire State governor addressed the accusations leveled against him over the past seven days by three women and New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) independent review into those claims, which she announced on Monday was formally proceeding.
“As you probably know, the attorney general is doing an independent review, and I will fully cooperate with that review,” Cuomo said at the beginning of his statement. “Now, the lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review until that review is over. I understand that, I’m a lawyer, too. But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this.”
“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” the governor began. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”
This echoes what Cuomo said in a Sunday statement about the allegations, in which he stated he “may have been insensitive” during his tenure but charged his accusers of misinterpreting his actions, saying, “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation… I am truly sorry about that.”
During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo iterated “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” repeated that sentence, then said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable” and repeated that one too.
“And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do,” he continued. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”
“I also want you to know that I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” the governor said at the end of his statement. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”
Amid Boylan and Bennett’s allegations, another report of Cuomo sexually harassing a woman has cropped up. On Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch accused the governor of placing his hands on her cheeks—without her consent—at a 2019 wedding reception and asking if he could kiss her. A photograph of the two together at the event has also been circulating on social media.
Asked at Wednesday’s briefing about the pictures that have resurfaced of him being touchy with people, particularly that of him and Ruch, the governor claimed that it is his way of greeting people.
“I understand the opinion of—and feelings of—Ms. Ruch,” Cuomo said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people—women, children, men, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. […] It is my usual and customary way of greeting.”
Moreover, the governor said that his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would do the same thing.
“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” Cuomo said, explaining, “You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you want to reach out to them.”
He also mentioned that he kisses and hugs legislators and noted that at an event in Queens the other day he hugged pastors and state assembly members.
Furthermore, the governor said that his intent “doesn’t matter,” saying, “What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”
“But if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” he added, going on to say that if they were offended or hurt by it, he apologizes.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.
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