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Germany and France Oppose Donald Trump’s Twitter Exile

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 1/11/2021 Birgit Jennen and Ania Nussbaum
graphical user interface: The Instagram account for U.S. President Donald Trump on a smartphone arranged in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Facebook Inc. Chief Executive OfficerMark Zuckerbergsaid that the current block on Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts will be extended indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks. © Bloomberg The Instagram account for U.S. President Donald Trump on a smartphone arranged in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Facebook Inc. Chief Executive OfficerMark Zuckerbergsaid that the current block on Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts will be extended indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks.

(Bloomberg) -- Germany and France attacked Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. after U.S. President Donald Trump was shut off from the social media platforms, in an extension of Europe’s battle with big tech.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to the decisions, saying on Monday that lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech and not private technology companies.

“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.

Europe is increasingly pushing back against the growing influence of big technology companies. The EU is currently in the process of setting up regulation that could give the bloc power to split up platforms if they don’t comply with rules.

Twitter permanently banned Trump last week after it decided the outgoing president’s tweets breached its rules against gloriyfing violence. It cited his posts on the riots in the U.S. capital.

Read more: Parler, Trump Bans Show Big Tech Power Over Web Conversation

The move followed similar action by Facebook. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said Trump’s most recent posts showed he intended to use his remaining time in office to undermine a peaceful and lawful transition of power.

Big tech companies have come under pressure from lawmakers, civil rights advocates and their own workers to do more to moderate content that could lead to violence or illegal activity.

They long avoided such debates by claiming to be content-neutral. But in the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol, it has become increasingly clear just how much power and responsibility they have over public debate.

(Updates with Beaune comment in fourth paragraph.)

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