Angela Merkel assaults Twitter over Trump ban

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has sharply criticized Twitter’s decision to ban US President Donald Trump and described it as a “problematic” violation of the “fundamental right to freedom of expression”.

Twitter banned Mr. Trump’s account last week following the riot at the Capitol, citing “repeated and serious” violations of its citizen integrity policy. Facebook has taken similar measures.

However, Ms. Merkel said through her spokesman that the US government should follow Germany’s example in enacting laws restricting online incitement rather than allowing platforms like Twitter and Facebook to set their own rules.

The intervention highlights an important area of ​​disagreement between the US and Europe regarding the regulation of social media platforms. The EU wants to give regulators more powers to force internet platforms like Facebook or Twitter to remove illegal content.

In the US, tech companies have traditionally been left to fend for themselves to monitor their own sites, although momentum is building up behind policies to restrict their regulatory freedoms. Several members of Congress are working on bills that would limit the legal protection of social media companies from lawsuits over third-party content posted on their websites. Others are pushing for a new federal law on data protection that could mirror the EU’s GDPR.

Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that freedom of expression was a “fundamental right of decisive importance” that could be restricted “but only in accordance with the law and within a framework set by the legislator – not by the decision of the social management media platforms “.

For this reason, he said the Chancellor found it “problematic” that Mr Trump’s accounts had been suspended indefinitely.

Mr Seibert referred to a German law on online hate speech that went into effect in 2018 and put the country at the forefront of global internet surveillance efforts.

Under the Network Enforcement Act, social media must remove potentially illegal material within 24 hours of being notified or face fines of up to € 50 million. It is considered to be one of the toughest restrictions in the western world on online content.

Ms. Merkel’s criticism of the ban was confirmed by the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. Mr Le Maire told France Inter on Monday that he was “shocked” by Twitter’s move. He added: “Digital regulation should not be done by the digital oligarchy itself. . . Regulation of the digital arena is a matter for the sovereign people, governments and the judiciary. “

The ban was also attacked by Alexei Navalny, the well-known Russian blogger and dissident. He called it “an unacceptable act of censorship” used by the Kremlin to justify its own blacklist by state media.

“The Twitter ban is a decision made by people we do not know, following a process we do not know,” he said in a Twitter message, adding that the decision was “based on emotions and personal political preferences.”

“This precedent is being exploited by enemies of freedom of expression around the world,” he wrote. “Also in Russia. Every time they have to silence someone they will say, “This is 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 organized by Russian intelligence.

He said that 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 move against Trump was also condemned by one of Russia’s leading state media propagandists, Vladimir Soloviev. “So it is argued that the US Constitution is lower than the internal documents of the Twitter company?” he wrote on his telegram channel.

“Are private corporations allowed to create zones that are free from the US Constitution?” said Mr Soloviev, who hosts a weekly television show devoted to what Russian President Vladimir Putin has been doing this week. “This is not just a story about Trump.”

Separately, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strong militant leader of Chechnya, noted that he and Mr Trump were now united in censorship after his accounts on Facebook and Instagram were banned.

“Now I have something in common with Donald Trump: while he previously blocked my accounts on social networks, Almighty God has now restored justice and, as a result, the accounts of the mutinous Donald Trump have also been blocked,” Kadyrov wrote on his Telegram channel.

Mr Seibert said that while Ms Merkel protested outright bans, she had no objection to Twitter or Facebook, warning users that some content – such as certain tweets from the US President alleging election fraud – was misleading.

He said that social media companies “have a major responsibility to ensure that political communications are not poisoned by hatred, lies and incitement to violence. And it is right that when content is posted on certain channels that fall into such categories, they do not remain idle. “

Additional coverage from Kiran Stacey in Washington

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