The European Commissioner for the internal market described the storming the U.S. Congress as the “9/11 moment of social media” and has called for the United States to work alongside the EU to implement more restrictions on speech on the internet.
Thierry Breton, a former French Finance Minister, said that by banning President Donald Trump, American following the unrest at the Capitol, tech companies “have recognized their responsibility, duty and means to prevent the spread of illegal viral content”.
The EU Commissioner wrote in POLITICO, that tech companies “can no longer hide their responsibility toward society by arguing that they merely provide hosting services.”
“The unrest in Washington is proof that a powerful yet unregulated digital space — reminiscent of the Wild West — has a profound impact on the very foundations of our modern democracies,” Brenton proclaimed.
“Last week’s insurrection marked the culminating point of years of hate speech, incitement to violence, disinformation and destabilization strategies that were allowed to spread without restraint over well-known social networks,” he added.
The Eurocrat called on the incoming Biden administration in the U.S. to “join forces, as allies of the free world” to craft a “new global approach to online platforms”.
“Just as 9/11 marked a paradigm shift for global security, 20 years later we are witnessing a before-and-after in the role of digital platforms in our democracy,” he said.
Following the terror attacks on September 11th, the United States Congress swiftly approved the Patriot Act, which drastically empowered American security agencies to surveil people, both inside and outside of the country.
The comparison of the unrest at the Capitol building to 9/11 from the EU Commissioner echo sentiments expressed by President-Elect Joe Biden, who said of those who entered the building last week: “They weren’t protesters — don’t dare call them protesters. They were a riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists.
Breton pointed to two proposed EU directives, the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act — both of which he has personally helped craft — as frameworks for policing online content.
“Our European laws and courts will continue to define what is illegal, both offline and online — from child pornography to terrorist content, from hate speech to counterfeiting, from incitement to violence to defamation — through democratic processes and with appropriate checks and balances,” he wrote.
The EU Commissioner said that with the introduction of the DSA, the bloc has made its “opening move”, but went on to argue that the challenges posed by freedom of speech on the internet are “global in nature”.
He went on to argue that the “dogma anchored in section 230” — a provision of the American Communications Decency Act of 1996 which provides liability protections for social media companies, protecting them from being sued for the content users post on their platforms — “has collapsed”.
Therefore, Mr Breton called for increased government control of social media platforms, saying: “Regardless of whether silencing a standing president was the right thing to do, should that decision be in the hands of a tech company with no democratic legitimacy or oversight?”
In response to the article, the director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo said that the violence in the Capitol will be exploited by authorities “to justify more securitisation, surveillance and, of course, censorship – the final frontier – in the months to come.”