Is social media out of control?

Three days after the storming of the Capitol, Twitter permanently blocked Donald Trump's private account in a bid to stop the president from inciting further violence. But for Europe's press, this is not the end of the matter. The question now is whether constructive debate on social media is a pipe dream.

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La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Protecting freedom of speech means curbing it

La Libre Belgique calls for steps to be taken to regulate social media:

“While we may rejoice that every citizen can find a platform where they can express their opinion on everything under the sun, it is just as important to protect freedom of expression - and this means curbing it. Just like other media outlets, social networks have editorial responsibilities and they must therefore be subject to a minimum level of regulation. Because if people want to spread content they must be accountable for it, particularly when complex algorithms favour certain publications. Trump's turbulent departure has at least highlighted the danger that arises when freedom of expression is managed by a handful of American Internet giants.”

Expressen (SE) /

Unprincipled tech giants

Expressen warns that arbitrariness and double standards will hold sway if the global debate is controlled by Silicon Valley:

“They're only too happy to pick on US politicians, but Ayatollah Khamenei's Twitter account is still up and running, despite posts calling for Israel to be wiped out. ... The problem won't go away just because big tech is blocking Trump, nor will the algorithms that reward polarising posts and blatant lies. There is no easy solution here. After all, subjecting social media to stronger political control, risks giving more power to madmen like Trump. But all those who are now celebrating the blocking of the president should ask themselves which politicians will be able to block the unprincipled tech giants when the political wind changes.”

Contributors (RO) /

Hopeless algorithm-based censorship

An estimated 500,000 posts per minute were sent on Facebook in 2018. It's not surprising that neither Facebook nor Twitter can cope with this flood of data, comments Contributors:

“It is not possible for humans to moderate this cacophonous avalanche of information perfectly, no matter how much money is thrown at it. But the algorithms are also imperfect. ... The moderators are rarely able to clarify the situation; employees are completely overwhelmed by the volume of work. It seems that behind all the soulful discourse about wonderful technologies that anticipate what I will think tomorrow, there is actually a desperate struggle to stem the flow of information using rudimentary tools based, for instance, on keyword-based automated censorship.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Maintaining democracy's muscle

The debate about whether and under what conditions to block social media users is proof that the democratic spirit is alive and kicking, El Periódico de Catalunya finds:

“We should be proud to belong to the sort of society in which it is necessary to have these kinds of debates for no other reason than to keep the spirit of democracy and its practice strong. Unfortunately, there are too many authoritarian regimes in which such reflections are pointless because the yoke of censorship and repression of critics is already in place.”

Berlingske (DK) /

A difficult balancing act

Democracy faces a dilemma, Berlingske puts in:

“This is about an issue that is as dangerous as it is essential for democratic countries: Do extreme political groups have the right to a say, and who determines the limits of what can be discussed on the social media? ... On the one hand it's problematic when conspiracy theories, calls for violence and attacks on democratic institutions are shared without anyone intervening. ... On the other hand, intervention is nothing more than an attack on the freedom of expression that Western democracies uphold at every opportunity. ... The distinction between restricting freedom of expression in Iran, for example, and blocking parts of social media in the US is slim indeed.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Fundamentally contradictory

Real Democrats cannot approve of Trump's account being blocked, Le Figaro argues:

“Many call for more rigorous restrictions on content on online platforms in order to combat hate speech, fake news and conspiracy theories. Most of these advocates of moderation are democratically minded people who consider themselves defenders of civil liberties. What's amazing is that they fail to see the immense contradiction between the demand for censorship (especially by multinational corporations) and their political beliefs, and that they are so blind to the opening of a Pandora's box and the excesses it would inevitably bring in terms of limiting freedom. The fact that Trump was more democratic and more liberal than many of his opponents in this regard shows just how far we have regressed when it comes to defending basic freedoms.” (GR) /

A dangerous precedent

The social media shouldn't wield so much power, warns media scholar Panagiotis Kakolyris in Protagon:

“Social media platforms are what Habermas would define as a 'public sphere' today. ... They are the digital version of the ancient Greek marketplace, which, of course, often turns into a Roman arena. How do Facebook and Twitter come to block a politician who has just received 74 million votes? ... What happened today to the imminently unlikable Trump will happen tomorrow to someone else who is unpopular not with us citizens, but with a leader who has the power to press the 'delete' button. As citizens, we cannot leave the right to control freedom of expression to an uncontrollable mechanism.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

High time to pull the ripcord

This was the right decision, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments:

“Twitter and Co. have long been criticised for doing too little against incitement, and rightly so, which is why now, with the images from Washington in mind, it's difficult to argue that they have gone too far. It also seems excessive to say their blocking sets a precedent. Trump is a singular figure. And the past few days have highlighted the fact that his use of online platforms is not only crude, but explosive. It was high time to pull the ripcord.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Networks' darling no longer profitable

The real reason for blocking Trump is of a purely economic nature, says Jutarnji list:

“What has Trump done that he didn't do before, when he was the darling of the networks? Lost the election? Called on his supporters to riot in Congress? Such things happened in the past with no consequences for Trump or his supporters. ... Twitter, Facebook and other platforms not only tolerated Trump but actually favoured him as long as his lies and fantasies brought followers, clicks and profit. But now that he is losing power and his actions could hurt the networks financially, he has become a 'persona non grata', his profiles are being closed, and Parler is making an example of him. Unfair? Yes, but who cares? He no longer generates profit, but only damage. That's capitalism, loser.”