Despite Angela Merkel’s difficult relationship with President Trump, the German Chancellor made it clear that she is outraged over the decision by Twitter, Facebook, and Google to collectively banish the president from the Internet in the final week of his term.
But Merkel’s statement, which attracted much attention in the U.S., was far from the only statement by a world leader recognizing the enormous power grab made by Big Tech, and the need to reverse that power grab with new regulations, new laws, or even entirely new online platforms. Leaders from all over the world joined in to express the same sentiments, and Revolver has compiled many of them into a list below. But keep in mind: No doubt even more leaders are thinking the same thing, and have only stayed quiet to avoid irritating the incoming
“The chancellor sees the complete closing down of the account of an elected president as problematic,” Steffen Seibert, her chief spokesman, said at a regular news conference in Berlin. Rights like the freedom of speech “can be interfered with, but by law and within the framework defined by the legislature — not according to a corporate decision.”
The German leader’s stance is echoed by the French government. Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said he was “shocked” to see a private company make such an important decision. “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO,” he told Bloomberg TV on Monday. “There needs to be public regulation of big online platforms.” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire earlier said that the state should be responsible for regulations, rather than “the digital oligarchy,” and called big tech “one of the threats” to democracy. [Bloomberg]
Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, was one of the first global leaders to trash tech monopolies for de-platforming the president.
“How can you censor someone: ‘Let’s see, I, as the judge of the Holy Inquisition, will punish you because I think what you’re saying is harmful,’” AMLO said during a long diatribe last week. “Where is the law, where is the regulation, what are the norms? This is an issue of government, this is not an issue for private companies.”
AMLO hasn’t stopped at just criticizing the decision, though. On Wednesday, he proposed creating a Mexican national social media platform, to make sure Mexicans couldn’t be stripped of free speech by a foreign corporation:
Speaking at his regular news conference, AMLO, as the president is best known, instructed the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) and other government departments to look at the possibility of creating a state-owned social media site that would guarantee freedom of speech in Mexico.
“To guarantee freedom, for freedom, so there’s no censorship in Mexico. [We want] a country without censorship. Mexico [must be] a country of freedom. This is a commitment we have,” he said. [Mexico News Daily]
Alongside Mexico, Poland has also floated the idea of a major state response to the banning of Trump. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki compared the treatment of the president to the suppression that occurred during Poland’s Communist era.
“Censorship of free speech, which is the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is now returning in the form of a new, commercial mechanism to combat those who think differently,” Morawiecki said.
To fix the problem, Poland’s government has a plan almost as bold as Mexico’s. Instead of creating a Poland-only social media network, the government is drafting legislation that would ban tech companies from taking down material that does not violate Polish law. Facebook and Twitter would have to obey, or else be shut out of the country.
Sebastian Kaleta, secretary of state at Poland’s Ministry of Justice … said the draft law prepared by the justice ministry would make it illegal for social media companies to remove posts that did not break Polish law.
In recent years, Facebook has moved to block content from far-right Polish organisations and politicians on numerous occasions. The MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, aligned with the Konfederacja party, was in November shut out of his account, which had 780,000 followers, for what Facebook called repeated violations of community standards. Korwin-Mikke accused Facebook of being run by “fascists and Bolsheviks”.
Under the provisions of the Polish draft law, users would be able to file a court petition to force social media companies to restore removed content if they believed it did not violate Polish law. The court would rule within seven days and the process would be fully electronic. [The Guardian]
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is routinely compared to Trump (including by Revolver), so it’s no surprise that he’s blasted the power of tech to silence leaders like himself.
On Tuesday, Bolsonaro encouraged his supporters to follow him on Telegram, a competitor to Facebook-owned WhatsApp with very little moderation.
-* Inscreva-se em meu canal oficial no telegram*: https://t.co/O8KTejUGuL
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 12, 2021
The Friday before, Bolsonaro promoted the Parler app just a few hours before it was taken offline by a concerted big tech attack. Bolsonaro’s son, meanwhile, changed his profile photo on Twitter to an image of Trump to show solidarity, while declaring that Parler’s shutdown was an attack by the “Big Tech cartel.”
-Parler vítima do cartel das Big Tech
Mas ainda não foi o suficiente. Esta plataforma anunciou hoje que suspendeu 70mil contas de apoiadores do Presidente Trump.
— Eduardo Bolsonaro?? (@BolsonaroSP) January 12, 2021
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an ally of President Trump, hasn’t said much about the attack on the president, but statements by his allies have left little doubt what he likely believes.
Tejasvi Surya is a member of the Indian parliament and leader of the the youth wing of the BJP, Modi’s party. Less than two hours after Trump’s permanent Twitter ban was announced, Surya stepped up to call for new regulations on the company to make sure the same could not happen in India.
This must be wake up call for all who don’t yet understand threat to our democracies by unregulated big tech companies.
If they can do this to POTUS, they can do this to anyone.
— Tejasvi Surya (@Tejasvi_Surya) January 9, 2021
Australia’s senior leaders have shows significant concern about the power play by tech behemoths. Josh Frydenberg, Australian treasurer and deputy leader of the governing Liberal Party, condemned the move.
“I feel pretty uncomfortable with those measures which were announced. Freedom of speech is fundamental to our society,” he said. “Those decisions were taken by commercial companies, but personally I felt uncomfortable with what they did.” [Financial Review]
Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack, meanwhile, accused Twitter of hypocrisy for censoring the American President but not removing a tweet spread by a Chinese official showing a doctored image of an Australian soldier committing a war crime in Afghanistan. The loudest condemnation of all, though, came from Liberal Party backbencher George Christensen, who has pledged to introduce legislation to restrict what social media can block in Australia:
Christensen and Kelly are both incensed that Twitter first applied warning labels and then suspended the account of US president Donald Trump over claims the election was “fraudulent” and the US capitol mob were “very nice people”.
In a sign outspoken rightwing MPs will continue to challenge social media companies, Christensen has revealed on Facebook he will push for laws to “stop social media platforms from censoring any and all lawful content created by their users”.
“Twitter, Facebook and Google/YouTube’s cultural purge is in full swing with the tech tyrants banning, silencing, fake ‘fact checking’ and censoring conservatives and others they do not agree with,” he posted on Saturday. [The Guardian]
French President Emanuel Macron has not made a public statement on Trump’s de-platforming. But finance minister Bruno Le Maire has. Le Maire has clashed personally with Trump in the past, but said he was “shocked” by what Twitter had done and warned that a “digital oligarchy” was seizing powers reserved for citizens and elected governments.
New Zealand maintains an official government post of privacy commissioner, whose role is to protect the personal information of New Zealanders. Sitting privacy commissioner John Edwards had one of the sharpest critiques of all of the big tech attack on President Trump and his supporters, and called for new regulations of social media to prevent it from ever happening again:
The Twitter and Facebook bans are arbitrary, cynical, unprincipled and further evidence that regulation of social media platforms is urgently required.
Much worse has been allowed, and is still present on both platforms than the precipitating posts.
— John Edwards (@JCE_PC) January 9, 2021
China tends to avoid official comment on domestic political disputes in foreign countries, and the Trump banning was no exception. You won’t see random off-the-cuff remarks from Xi Jinping.
Chinese state-run media, though, was another story. The Global Times was quick to ridicule House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for cheering on demonstrations in Hong Kong while summoning a massive military force to crack down on the Capitol riot.
.@SpeakerPelosi once referred to the Hong Kong riots as "a beautiful sight to behold" — it remains yet to be seen whether she will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill. pic.twitter.com/91iXDzYpcO
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 7, 2021
Facebook and Twitter are both banned in China, but the Global Times was still happy to use Trump’s de-platforming to call out the hollowness of U.S. government rhetoric on political liberty:
Does the silencing of Trump breach the principle of freedom of speech? No matter what the first amendment says, that Trump cannot express his opinions on social networks and lost the right that every ordinary American enjoys definitely violates the principle of freedom of speech endorsed by US political elites. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is how the US, as “the beacon of freedom,” has lectured the world.
In fact, the political connotation of freedom of speech has been concealed by the discourse power of the US and the West. Freedom of speech does have political and ethical boundaries. The silencing of Trump unveiled this true essence of freedom of speech. [Global Times]
Other Chinese officials, meanwhile, pointed out the potential geopolitical ramifications of American tech companies having free reign to control global discourse. Unsurprisingly, more than any other country, China seemed aware of the political self-harm America had inflicted on itself, and the lessons that foreign countries should take from the incident:
Mei Xinyu, a researcher at the China’s Ministry of Commerce, expressed concerns over the potential for freewheeling tech platforms to pose a political threat to the country.
“The behaviour of these social media platforms has raised panic in other countries,” Mei said. “Tech companies in China have to make a positive impact. We won’t restrain ourselves economically. But in terms of political risks, we can’t allow this to happen in China.”
Wang Sixin, a professor from the Communication University of China, echoed those sentiments.
“This incident of a group of tech giants conspiring to choke off Trump is a cautionary lesson for our own regulations,” Wang said. “Put differently, we must not let these internet companies, especially the alliance of them, achieve an information monopoly.” [South China Morning Post]
Russian opposition leader Andrei Navalny’s criticism of the Trump purge got the most attention, with Navalny hiding nothing about how displeased he was:
10. This precedent will be exploited by the enemies of freedom of speech around the world. In Russia as well. Every time when they need to silence someone, they will say: 'this is just common practice, even Trump got blocked on Twitter'.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) January 9, 2021
But Navalny wasn’t the only Russian unhappy with the move. A whole raft of opposition figures said similar things. Vladimir Putin’s government arguably had even harsher words for Big Tech:
Russia on Thursday compared the decision of social media giants to suspend U.S. President Donald Trump’s accounts to a “nuclear blast in cyber space” with the consequences hard to predict.
“The decision of U.S. internet platforms to block the head of state can be compared to a nuclear blast in cyber space,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Facebook.
“It’s not the destruction that’s scary but the consequences,” she added.
“A blow has been dealt against democratic values proclaimed by the West.” [The Moscow Times]
The overwhelming international condemnation of the American social media industrial complex indicates that the United States cannot crackdown on the rights of its own citizens without further diminishing its prestige, credibility, and power on the global stage. With America already in steep relative decline as a superpower, it remains to be seen whether it can afford to abandon even the pretense of being a “free society.” This is a topic Revolver will explore in greater depth in a future article.
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