The decision of social media giants to control more content and banning the posts of US President Donald Trump and some of his supporters has increased the debate in Europe on how to draw a legal framework for platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
The ongoing debate often focuses on whether governments should intervene to censor and restrict freedom of expression, or whether to protect these views against the barriers of social media giants, no matter how offensive.
But a growing number of European leaders are looking at a third way to reduce fake news, hate speech, disinformation and toxic personal attacks on social media. That is, to consider social media platforms as publishers, not owners of impartial platforms that provide relationships between consumers and digital content creators.
East and West Europe split on social media
European leaders say this method will help dispel fears that the state will censor freedom of expression.
By changing the laws, social media companies can be held liable for libel and libel cases, just as traditional newspapers and televisions are legally liable for the content they broadcast.
Social media companies have already inadvertently reinforced their claim of being content providers by blocking messages and banning some users, now playing a larger role as ‘editorial director’ in the app.
“I think there is a real debate right now about the status of major internet companies and whether they should be defined as just platforms or as publishers, because when you start to be an editor, then you’re in a different world,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a parliamentary committee speech last week.
Numerous European Union leaders criticized social media companies for banning Trump and his supporters from their platforms. Facebook blocked or deleted content using the phrase “Stop the Steal” referring to false election fraud allegations. Twitter says it has suspended the accounts of more than 70,000 QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe that “Trump is waging a secret war against devil-worshiping child molesters” in government, business and the media.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her concerns about blocking and deletion, calling this a step too far.
“The right to freedom of opinion is essential,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters.
Some countries, such as Poland, run by populist governments, are planning to draft a bill that will ban Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies from censoring ideas, fearing that social media giants will censor them.
However, political pressure is increasing in other countries to have the state regulate freedom of expression and oversee social media platforms.
Traditional media versus social media
The idea that social media companies should be subject to similar regulations as newspaper, television and radio broadcasters is not new. Newspaper owners have long opposed social media platforms to be treated differently from traditional media before the law. They complained that Facebook and others, who were taking advantage of their own content, were also making huge profits by selling ads.
Last year, Facebook repulsed the idea that social media platforms should be treated as traditional media, and in a report argued that newspapers should be placed in a separate category amidst the telecommunications industry.
Facebook agreed that new regulatory rules were required. He argued, however, that instead of imposing restrictions on companies that make certain types of statements or being held responsible for the content, these regulations should focus on monitoring and removing the mechanisms they can implement to prevent “harmful” posts.
Boris Johnson’s advocacy of treating social media giants as traditional media resonates in the United States, where Congress passed the 1996 Communication Compliance Act. The law largely excludes social media companies from legal restrictions and requires them not to be held responsible for the content on their platforms.
According to article 230 of the law, no server or user of interactive computer services is considered to be the publisher or spokesperson of the information shared by another content provider. In other words, social media companies are not held responsible for the posts of their users or the content they produce.
Former President Donald Trump wanted Article 230 to be repealed. New President Joe Biden agrees with Trump. Both called for the repeal of this chapter.
With such a change, social media can be legally responsible for people’s posts; Their immunity against insult and libel cases will be lifted.