Europe’s Populists Fearful of Social Media Restrictions

Europe’s populist leaders are outraged by the decision of U.S. social-media giants to block U.S. President Donald Trump from posting on their sites. They fear Facebook, Twitter and other major social media companies could start banning them, too.  
 
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki condemned the internet giants Tuesday. “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,” he wrote on Facebook.
 
Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) already has introduced legislation aimed at limiting the power of social media giants to remove content or ban users.  
 
The draft law was proposed after Twitter started flagging as misleading content tweets by Trump and supporters disputing the U.S. election result. PiS lawmakers say there shouldn’t be any censorship by social media companies or curtailment of speech because debate is the essence of democracy.
 
Opposition critics say the proposed measure sits oddly with the ruling party’s efforts to muzzle the national media and to turn the public broadcaster into a propaganda vehicle. Those moves are currently being investigated by the European Union, which has accused the PiS government of rolling back democratic norms.
 
The Polish government also has vowed to bring foreign-owned media outlets in the country under Polish control, which critics fear means turning them into government propaganda outlets.  
 
Under the draft law, if content is removed, a social media company would have 24 hours to respond to a complaint from a user and any decision could be appealed to a newly created special court.
 
Populist leaders aren’t alone in denouncing the moves by social media giants. Across Europe there is unease regardless of political affiliation at censorship by social media giants and their expulsion of Trump, a response to last week’s bid to derail the certification of the U.S. election results by pro-Trump agitators storming the U.S. Capitol. Twitter cited violations of its civic integrity policies to block Trump.
 
Facebook is blocking and deleting content that uses the phrase “stop the steal,” which refers to false claims by Trump supporters of election fraud. And Twitter says it has suspended more than 70,000 accounts of adherents of the QAnon conspiracy, who believe Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media.FILE – A figure representing hate speech on Facebook is seen featured during a carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, Feb. 24, 2020.German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her concerns about the actions of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, saying they are a step too far.  
 
“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” her spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters this week. But campaigns are mounting in Germany and in other European countries for social media giants to block hate speech, populist misinformation and fake news from their sites, regardless of authorship.  
 
Additionally, political pressure is mounting for a tightening of regulatory restrictions that some European governments have already introduced aimed at policing social media.  
 
When voicing concern about the social media blocking of Trump, Merkel’s spokesperson cited Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, which was approved in 2018 and requires social media platforms to remove potentially illegal material within 24 hours of being told to do so, or face fines of up to $60 million.  
 
Seibert said free speech should only be restricted in line “with the laws and within a framework defined by the legislature, not by the decision of the management of social media platforms.”  
 
But some German lawmakers want the law toughened and are also urging social media companies to be more forward-leaning in efforts to block what they see as dangerous speech. German Social Democrat lawmaker Helge Lindh told broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany is “not doing enough,” saying more restrictions are needed.  
 
The German parliament approved legislation last year that would ensure prosecution for those perpetrating hate or for inciting it online. Under the legislation, social media companies would have been obliged to report hate comments to the police and identify the online authors.
 
Final passage of the legislation was halted, though, because of objections raised by the country’s Constitutional Court, which ruled parts of the new legislation were in conflict with data protection laws. The court called for adjustments that are scheduled to be debated this month by German lawmakers.  
 
Populist politicians stand to lose more from the renewed focus on misinformation on the internet, whether the outcome from the new focus is more stringent state regulations or just social media giants being more restrictive in Europe.
 
Populists tend to be able to galvanize support using social media more than mainstream politicians and parties have managed, says Ralph Schroeder, an academic at the Oxford Internet Institute, part of Britain’s University of Oxford.  
 
“They stand to lose most along with other politicians, on the left and the right and beyond, that seek a politics that is anti-establishment and exclusionary toward outsiders,” he told VOA. “The reason is that social media gives them a means to express ideas that cannot be expressed in traditional news media or in traditional party affiliations.”
 

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After Trump Social Media Ban, Questions About Future of Online Speech

The attack on the U.S. Capitol has reignited criticism of social media and its alleged role in inciting violence. While Facebook and Twitter have banned President Trump, there are questions about the future of online speech. Tina Trinh reports.Producer: Matt Dibble 

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Social Media Wrestle With Aftermath of Blocking President Trump Over Capitol Riot

The attack on the U.S. Capitol has reignited criticism of social media and its alleged role in inciting violence. While Facebook and Twitter have banned President Trump, there are questions about the future of online speech. Tina Trinh reports.Producer: Matt Dibble 

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Parler Social Network Sues Amazon After Ban

Social media platform Parler has sued Amazon in response to being removed from Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company’s web hosting services. Calling the deplatforming a “death blow,” Parler said Amazon engaged in antitrust violations, breached its contract with Parler and interfered with the company’s business relationship with its users. Specifically, the complaint said Amazing breached its contract by not providing Parler 30 days’ notice before cutting it off from its servers. The suit asked a federal court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Amazon. “Without AWS, Parler is finished, as it has no way to get online,” according to the complaint. “And a delay of granting this TRO by even one day could also sound Parler’s death knell as President (Donald) Trump and others move on to other platforms.” Parler, a social network service popular with conservatives, went offline Monday after Amazon suspended it for allowing posts that encourage violence.  Before the site went down, Parler CEO John Matze accused Amazon and other tech giants of a “war on free speech.”  Google banned Parler’s smartphone app from its app store on Friday, also citing Parler’s allowance of posts that seek to incite violence in the United States.  Apple instituted its own Parler ban on Saturday.  The two-year-old Parler saw an increase in users in recent months as social media giants Facebook and Twitter stepped up enforcement of posts that violated their policies.  Both Facebook and Twitter suspended Trump’s accounts last week after some of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.  
 

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Facebook Shuts Down Accounts Linked to Ugandan Information Ministry 

Facebook has shut down several accounts of a network in Uganda linked to the country’s Ministry of Information. The social media company accused the network of using fake accounts to promote the ruling party and the president.The Facebook accounts shut down were allegedly linked to the “Citizens Interaction Center” at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.In a statement, Facebook accuses the account holders of using fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users and re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular than they were.Duncan Abigaba, the deputy head of the center, said the accounts were targeted because of their support for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement or NRM.Abigaba said the action by Facebook is unfair since members of the opposition National Unity Platform party, led by singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine, have been using social media to promote Wine’s presidential candidacy.“So, NRM had to try and sell our candidate as well in the social media space. By selling the candidate, it means you have to employ different tactics including you put out content. And this content you must share it in different groups for it to have as much reach as possible,” said Abigaba.The Uganda Communications Commission wrote to Facebook and Twitter late last year, demanding it shut down several accounts it said were being used wrongly by members of the opposition National Unity Platform.FILE – Uganda’s president and presidential candidate Yoweri Museveni of the ruling party National Resistance Movement waves to his supporters as he arrives at a campaign rally in Entebbe, Feb. 10, 2016.Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo says the commission received a response from Facebook, saying it would investigate the claims.But instead, said Opondo, without any due process, accounts of NRM supporters have been shut down.“They have not told us the nature of the complaint. They have not written even to say we are going to switch you off. And so, it’s a double standard. And that ties very well with what our intelligence is telling us that some of the opposition is working with foreign interests,” he said.The Ugandan government is already disabling some social media platforms. Currently, unless one is using a virtual private network, videos on Facebook cannot be played.The Uganda Communications Commission has also ordered app stores to block over 100 virtual private networks being used by citizens to bypass the blockage.Joel Ssenyonyi, the National Unity Platform spokesperson, denies the party has a hand in the account shutdowns.“We actually wish we had a hand in it. We would actually love to see all the government accounts blocked, because they are using them to justify all the ills that are happening. You know that people get killed and then you see government officials and regime apologists and functionaries go on social media and they justify the killing of people and so on,” said Ssenyonyi. Ugandans go to the polls Thursday with Museveni seeking to extend his 34-year run as president. Bobi Wine has called off his final campaign appearances, due to multiple arrests and police breaking up his rallies.
 

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