Twitter’s decision to close former US President Trump’s accounts has sparked heated controversy that have confirmed the absence of a vision on the role of fundamental rights in the European political agenda. The analysis of Andrea Monti Originally published in Italian by Formiche.net
In a somewhat reductive way, the closure of the Twitter account of the (soon to be) former US President Donald Trump and, in cascade, the blocking of other network services that hosted platforms related to the American right, have raised alarms about the excessive power assumed by Big Tech. These companies have shown that they can intervene autonomously and according to their agenda in exercising political rights in a sovereign state.
This fact has been widely known for some time and denounced by the NGOs that work to protect civil rights, but which is always very low on the European Union’s political agenda and the individual Member States.
In this sense, the reaction of the Polish government is indicative: in order to avoid a domestic “Trump case”, it has presented a bill that, in order to protect freedom of expression, prevents social networks from deciding autonomously whether or not to suspend the account of a user who has not violated Polish law. However, a government might decide to act crudely. It could refuse to acknowledge a judiciary system that applies the Nice Charter’s principles as well as the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. The declared “protection of freedom of expression” actually becomes a Trojan horse to allow the executive to censor anyone without judicial review.
Similarly, the highest EU authorities and institutions have expressed concern about what is and remains a personal choice, contractual and therefore only open to review by a court. That is precisely the point.
It makes little sense to wonder in the name of which law Twitter and Facebook have adopted their choices, just as it makes no sense to hope that these decisions will be taken “in accordance with the law”, as Angela Merkel wished.
Laws to regulate Big Techs already exist and are applied all the time. Just think of independent national and European authorities’ actions and the legal disputes involving multinational software manufacturer and ‘over the top’ companies.
Jurisdiction is not an issue. In every country rules allow prosecuting those who, from abroad have caused damage within the national borders. Even China, as highlighted on Formiche.net, has such laws. By contrast, the lack is a rule to allows an immediate resort to a judge, economically viable and that forces the court to pronounce in a brief time (hours, if not days). To achieve this result, however, an international treaty would be needed to recognise the direct effect of decisions issued by one country’s courts against another.
The Twitter-Trump affair erupts all the contradictions of a confused EU agenda that hides an unwillingness to act behind ineffective rhetoric. On the one hand, it claims to want to stop disinformation and fake news, and on the other it invokes the limitation of fundamental rights, but only ‘in the name of the law’ – whatever that may be.
However, the EU narrative does not deal with the only real and delicate issue that could stop the repetition of what happened: European sovereignty’s actual weight towards companies operating outside our borders.