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Censorship by Big Tech companies has been a hot topic for the last few years, but following the banning of President Donald Trump from social media, leaders around the globe are now speaking out against censorship and taking steps to protect their own countries from it.
Big Tech’s censorship of President Trump and others has created some unlikely allies. Leaders from Europe, Mexico, South America, Australia, and other countries have decried the ability of a private company to censor the sitting president. Some nations are taking legislative efforts to prevent censorship, while others are looking into the possibility of building their own independent social media platforms.
The decision by Big Tech companies to shut down Donald Trump’s accounts was met with concern by global leaders, even leaders who have far more in common with the American left than with Trump.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel, said,
“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 … Seen from this angle, the chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado said,
“I don’t like anybody being censored or taking away from the right to post a message on Twitter or Facebook. I don’t agree with that, I don’t accept that … A court of censorship like the Inquisition to manage public opinion: this is really serious…. This cannot be accepted, this cannot be allowed, because it contradicts freedom.”
He said he will direct Mexico’s National Council on Science and Technology, the Interior Ministry, the legal department, and the foreign and communications ministries to start exploring social media alternatives and options. the president said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo tweeted by referencing Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro:
“A world where Maduro is on social media, but Trump is suspended cannot be normal.”
In response to the censorship, Bolsonaro changed his profile picture to a picture of Trump.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack also condemned the move by Twitter and other companies, stating, “I’m not in favour of censorship. I think if people don’t like what they see on Twitter — well don’t go onto that social media platform.”
He noted that Big Tech censorship is especially bad because it is selective and advances a double standard. He noted that Twitter has continued to keep in place a doctored photo of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child.
“Now that [the doctored photo] has not been taken down and that is wrong … If you’re going to take down Donald Trump’s Twitter feed then think very carefully and closely about also taking down that photo, which should have been taken down weeks ago.”
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called the banning of Trump by Twitter “an unacceptable act of censorship.” In a lengthy Twitter thread, Navalny posted,
“In my opinion, the decision to ban Trump was based on emotions and personal political preferences. Don’t tell me he was banned for violating Twitter rules. I get death threats here every day for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone (not that I ask for it). Among the people who have Twitter accounts are cold-blooded murderers (Putin or Maduro) and liars and thieves (Medvedev). For many years, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have been used as a base for Putin’s ‘troll factory’ and similar groups from other authoritarian countries.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said,
“The censorship of freedom of speech, the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is returning today in the form of a new, commercial mechanism fighting against those who think differently.”
Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro recently proposed legislation that would limit Big Tech censorship and establish a court to hear challenges to acts of censorship.
India has announced the country is working on its own social media platform as an alternative to Western Big Tech companies.
Uganda recently banned all social media and messaging applications after alleged censorship by Facebook. President Yoweri Museveni apologized for the inconvenience the order caused, but said it was necessary after Facebook removed accounts supportive of his administration. He said,
“If you want to take sides against the NRM, then that group should not operate in Uganda. We cannot tolerate this arrogance of anybody coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad.”
Facebook claims the accounts were fake accounts meant to make it look like Museveni had more support.
Ironically and hypocritically, Twitter was outraged by the Ugandan ban of social media.
“Ahead of the Ugandan election, we’re hearing reports that Internet service providers are being ordered to block social media and messaging apps. We strongly condemn Internet shutdowns — they are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet.”
Ahead of the Ugandan election, we're hearing reports that Internet service providers are being ordered to block social media and messaging apps.
We strongly condemn internet shutdowns – they are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet.
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) January 12, 2021
“Access to information and freedom of expression, including the public conversation on Twitter, is never more important than during democratic processes, particularly elections,” they continued.
And yet, as the Washington Examiner points out, Twitter censored the New York Post for a story it investigated and wrote on the foreign business dealings of then-candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter. It seems Twitter only thinks access to information is important up to the point it damages their preferred candidate. Big Tech had no problem shutting down Parler and the accounts of millions of users, including elected officials, but now decries the injustice of Internet providers blocking them.
Critics of Big Tech censorship can be found across the ideological spectrum, many of whom have different ideas about the concept of free speech. Some European nations, for example, support censorship, but only by the state, not private companies. French Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said, “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO. But yes, I’m shocked by the fact that it is now entirely in private hands. It cannot be in private hands only.”
While it is admirable that these leaders are opposed to censorship by Big Tech, censorship by the state isn’t preferable either, as anyone who knows the history of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or who is attuned to the current state of human rights in China can attest.
What is especially dangerous within the United States is that Big Tech is not acting in a private vacuum. It has been allowed to do what it wants without any real criticism or consequence by the media, the courts, or Congress.
Long before Twitter and Facebook finally made the call to pull the plug on Trump, it was already suspending and shadow-banning conservative accounts, news it didn’t like, including that posted by the nation’s oldest newspaper, and even independent-minded liberals, like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, whose online advertising account was suspended by Google while she was running as a candidate for president during the Democratic primary election.
Now, those who share Big Tech’s ideological preferences are set to take over the U.S. presidency and Congress, and many of those who are part of that power structure have cheered on Big Tech as it has taken out their adversaries and effectively destroyed a free speech competitor. Does anyone really believe that an emboldened political class that has embraced censorship and cancel culture for “the good of the country” won’t themselves look to find official ways to further silence and criminalize any additional speech that somehow “offends?”
Unfortunately, censorship is like an out-of-control train headed down a steep mountainside. Once it gets underway and starts building up speed, no one can slow it or stop it, and it will eventually run over anyone who gets in the way.
Censorship is wrong not just because it silences a free people, but because it silences the truth. If you believe in basic civil liberties, human dignity, and freedom, you should oppose censorship and cancel culture with everything you’ve got — no matter which side of the political aisle you happen to currently reside on.
For when the censors come next for the classical liberals and the moderates and then even those leftists whose ideas have suddenly fallen out of favor, there will be — to paraphrase German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller — no one left on Twitter or any other platform to speak up for them.