By banning Trump, Twitter reopens debate on regulation of web giants

By banning Trump, Twitter reopens debate on regulation of web giants

Banning Trump from Twitter is “problematic”: it is not a supporter of the outgoing American president who writes it, but Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the many reactions provoked by the spectacular decision of the social network, which relaunched a international debate on the regulation of web giants.

Twitter’s decision to “permanently” suspend the personal account of the Republican President (88 million subscribers) is “an earthquake”, according to AFP the academic Florence G’sell, specialist in digital law .

A unilateral measure justified by a “risk of new incitement to violence” two days after the assault on the Capitol by its supporters, quickly followed by Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and which provoked a rain of reactions on a global scale, reviving the debate on the power and regulation of web giants.

And the criticism has not come only from supporters of the Republican president.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel considered this eviction from the main digital platforms “problematic”, her spokeswoman said on Monday. “It is possible to interfere with freedom of expression, but within the limits defined by the legislator, and not by the decision of a company management,” he added.

“The regulation of digital giants cannot be done by the digital oligarchy itself,” lamented the French Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire.

Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny denounced – on Twitter – “an act of censorship” based on “emotion and political preferences”. Kate Ruane of the powerful American civil rights association ACLU said that “everyone should be concerned when these companies have the power to remove people from their platforms that have become essential for the expression of billions of people. people”.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who presented two European draft legislation in mid-December to try to put an end to the abuses of the digital giants, for his part compared Twitter’s decision to a “September 11 of social networks”.

Since their inception, social networks have always sheltered behind Section 230 of the “Communications Decency Act” of US law, which prevents legal action related to content posted by third parties and exonerates them from civil and criminal liability by retaining only their role as host.

“The dogma of section 230, which is the dogma on which social networks have been their strength since 2000 (…) has just collapsed, and it is a monument that is collapsing in the information space” , said the European Commissioner on Monday. “For the first time in the history of social networks, this act therefore recognizes by those who are the main actors that they have an editorial responsibility”.

“It is a censorship framed by the general conditions” of social networks, of which the latter remain the sole masters, nuance the lawyer specializing in digital Christiane Féral-Schuh. “In the United States, the 1st Amendment protects American citizens against any infringement of their freedom of expression, but the Supreme Court also considered that private actors could moderate their discussion spaces as they wanted”, recalls. she, interviewed by AFP.

“This gives a total justification for what we have been doing for a year, this regulation of social networks (…) which answers very precisely this type of questions. And if it were ever implemented, never what happened in the United States could have happened, ”Breton assured reporters on Monday.

“The legislative texts will not suffice to regulate the problem”, considers on the contrary Christiane Féral-Schuhl. “There is a transnational problem and we need to collaborate with these actors, under the a posteriori control of the judge, then to enforce these decisions within our borders”.

It remains to be seen what the Biden administration will do, after a particularly tense hearing in November of the founders of Facebook and Twitter in the US Senate, around the now famous “section 230.”

For Florence G’sell, “what is planned in Europe and which could be of great interest to the Americans is to set up a procedure for the implementation of moderation decisions, a right to challenge these decisions, and possibility of seizing a third body to settle the dispute ”.

For this “we must legislate” in Europe as in the United States, and “clarify which regime applies to political leaders, but also more broadly to all actors in public debate”, she explains. “I think the platforms are ready to collaborate. But we must not be naive, there are huge financial stakes, they have benefited a lot from polarization ”.

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