Irony: German Chancellor Merkel Upset At Twitter For Banning Trump; Meanwhile Germany Demands Social Media Blocks Dangerous Content

from the square-the-circle dept

Lots of folks are reporting on the news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has now said that she finds Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump “problematic.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel blasted Twitter?s decision to ban U.S. President Donald Trump.

?The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,? Steffen Seibert, Merkel?s chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin on Monday, according to Reuters.

?Given that, the chancellor considers it problematic that the president?s accounts have been permanently suspended.?

Of course, this totally leaves out the fact that Germany is among the countries leading the charge in forcing internet companies to remove “dangerous” or “terrorist” content. I mean, it was only three years ago when the infamous NetzDG law went into effect, giving social media companies 24 hours to remove “obviously illegal” content, with threats of fines up to €5 million for employees of these companies if they magically fail to delete such content.

As we’ve pointed out, this is an impossible standard to meet, and it’s likely to get worse. The law has been a total dumpster fire with websites rushing to remove all sorts of content (including criticism of Angela Merkel…), to avoid facing penalties under the law.

On top of this, Germany has been among those pushing for new rules, such as the Terrorist Content Regulation that would give companies only an hour to remove “terrorist content.”

So it seems a bit rich for Merkel to now whine when Twitter shuts down Trump’s account. Of course, I’ve heard two semi-defenses of Merkel’s statement here. The first is that she’s distinguishing between removing specific tweets and shutting down the full account. And the second is that in the EU, they distrust corporate power, but are more trusting of government power. So they’re okay if the government decides to block certain content, but not comfortable with companies doing the same.

Indeed, the next part of Merkels’ statement seems to highlight that both of those claims explain this weird cognitive dissonance:

Seibert said that, while Twitter was right to flag Trump?s inaccurate tweets about the 2020 U.S. election, banning his account altogether was a step too far. He added that governments, not private companies, should decide on any limitations to freedom of speech.

But… that doesn’t hold up to any amount of serious scrutiny at all. After all, even if it is the government that passed the NetzDG law, and is working on other laws like the Digital Services Act and the Terrorist Content Regulation, every one of those laws then basically hands off the decision making to those companies. They never pick and choose which content is bad, they just tell the companies that if they mess up, they may face huge fines and/or criminal prosecution. That leads to massive over-censorship.

Indeed, it creates such a liability for companies that they will frequently overblock to avoid that liability. It’s just not worth it.

So, the whole thing is ridiculous. It’s yet another version of the “nerd harder” response from politicians, claiming that this kind of blocking is a bridge too far, but that other kind of blocking is fine, and if you mess it up in either direction (blocking too much or too little) you’ll get in trouble.

This is what’s so frustrating in all of this. People who have no idea how all of this works seem to expect that there’s some magic way to do the perfectly correct amount of moderation. They’re wrong. There’s always, always, always, going to be disagreements about the proper amount of moderation, and Merkel’s been part of the problem in pressuring companies to take down too much. It’s quite ridiculous for her now to complain that companies are doing what she and her government have been demanding all along.

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Comments on “Irony: German Chancellor Merkel Upset At Twitter For Banning Trump; Meanwhile Germany Demands Social Media Blocks Dangerous Content”

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nerdrage (profile) says:

somebody tell Mrs. Merkel how free speech works

Merkel doesn’t understand how free speech works. We have free speech as long as the government doesn’t interfere with it. If I can yack about my opinions on the street corner and not be bopped on the head by the cops and hauled off to prison, I have free speech. Americans have had free speech since 1776, when as far as I know, there was no social media. How did they manage without Twitter?

Twitter, Facebook, et al can snub me and not let me on their platform, but that is their right just like I can’t barge into your house and start screaming my opinions in your face. That’s private property and I have no right to the private property of others. I can buy my own private property, buy my own house and say what I like there, start my own social media platform and say what I like there.

Corporations are under no obligation to support free speech for all, or support free speech at all. And they’ve been doing this for a long time. The difference between social media and regular media is that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube figured out how to get people to make the media they sell to advertisers, for free (some YouTube creators get paid but it’s peanuts).

That’s better for them vs the traditional process, pay Spielberg or JJ Abrams to make a show or movie for you, and pay them millions. If I barged into Paramount or NBC and demanded a platform for my own show or movie, security would give me the boot. Twitter and Facebook are just like that, but they have far lower standards and don’t boot their free content makers unless pushed to the brink.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free speech, but add "on the internet"

You know, like a patent "do X, but ‘with a computer’ ".

Corporations are under no obligation to support free speech for all, or support free speech at all.

Having covered Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc, how about you take a step back. Apple and Google have no particular obligation to let you use their app stores. … and they have limited the smart phone application market as much as possible to those stores. And they have the backing of the DMCA anti-circumvention laws. Still okay, when the corporations in question are gatekeepers for applications? What are your alternatives?

Another step back: Amazon AWS, Cloudflare, etc are a more diverse environment than the Apple/Google duopoly but there too one sees similar attitudes to folks such as the Daily Stormer and Parler. Still okay when the corporations in question are gatekeepers for scaleable hosting?

A side step: Okay, your site is banned from CDNs, virtual hosting, etc. You can still set up your own servers and administer them yourselves. So… datacenters are also corporations.

Another step back: So you are now having to run your own datacenter and act as your own ISP. Who do you have to connect to, to get your ISP on the internet. Mmm, backbone providers, yes? Which are (wait for it) corporations!

At this point, you have stepped back to the point that your heels are hanging over the digital cliff, with the analog river running far far below.

So what is your free speech worth at this point? You can still stand on a street corner and spout vile nonsense and imprecations, but anyone who takes your words and puts them on the internet risks getting banished like you have. And mind, I’ve carried this argument well into ad absurdum territory, both in "got banished by" and "magically have resources to get around it", and still ended up offlined.

Do you regulate the corporations at one of these levels to require allowing access? Do you create a government-owned service to compete with the corporations (or alternately, nationalize the corporation, dooming it)?

Do you continue to say "we only promised you could speak, not ‘speak on the internet’ ?"

I don’t have an answer.

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Rocky says:

Re: Re: Free speech, but add "on the internet"

So what is your free speech worth at this point? You can still stand on a street corner and spout vile nonsense and imprecations, but anyone who takes your words and puts them on the internet risks getting banished like you have.

Well, you will also get pointed at, laughed at and in general become a social pariah for behaving like an asshole with the caveat that other assholes that think like that will seek you out.

Do you continue to say "we only promised you could speak, not ‘speak on the internet’ ?"

Since when has free speech morphed into the right to be heard at others expense?

Here’s an idea: Perhaps being civil and cogent doesn’t kick you off services on the internet, just as a newspaper will continue to publish op-eds that are civil and cogent. It’s a simple idea, I know, but it seems some people needs to be reminded of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Free speech, but add "on the internet"

I’d like to add something to your answer:

When your amount of "free speech" is defined by how rich you are, I’m not sure if we could call that "free speech".

In the end, not anyone has the power to create their own social network to speak there, so effectively, their free speech is being curtailed.

In the end, either your speech agrees with those that have the power, or better you have enough on your own.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: somebody tell Mrs. Merkel how free speech works

"Merkel doesn’t understand how free speech works."

Actually she does. It’s just that when any form of censorship or moderation risks bringing echoes of the reich German politicians have always been extremely careful when it comes to overstepping the bounds of democracy. To this day I think the german equivalent of the FBI is still the only law enforcement agency in the world expressly forbidden from performing arrests, just to keep the specter of the Gestapo from rising again.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Merkel

While I disgree with the NetzDG, making Merkel look like a hypocrite is a little misleading. I am not aware of any cricism of her that has been removed or penalized (and calling her in the ugliest names is not criticism). In fact she is victim of a ton of hate from many sides for many years.

Moreover she is not a fan of Trump. Like not at all. While I disagree with her on the conclusion that the permanent suspension of the account is bad, I agree that at least there has to be a discussion what the exact criteria are.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

The problem there lies in figuring out who gets to make an international standard. What would be abuse in one country might be “acceptable speech” in another. And that’s to say nothing of any possible international enforcement, such that a European country could tell an American company to delete content off wholly American servers.

The idea has some semblance of merit. But looking past the idea in general presents some rough issues for which no one has any reasonable one-size-fits-all answers.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Wrong about her upset reasoning

"I believe Chancellor Merkel is upset about not having an international standard to define social media abuse"

Then, the correct thing to do is to call for such a standard to be set up, starting with setting up a framework to determine who has a say in what those standards are?

"the current environment of private companies coming up with half baked standards"

The current environment is "people who own the platforms set the standards for their own community, which will differ greatly across different platforms". The only reason we’re having this conversation is because the ones that set a standard of "Nazis are welcome" are upset at their lack of popularity compared to the "no Nazis allowed" sites.

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Anonymous Coward says:

So, what Merkel is saying is that when an average Joe promotes violence, it’s dangerous terrorist content, but when a member of the political elite does the same, it’s freedom of opinion.

Fact is Twitter went to great lengths to avoid banning Trump. A random citizen tweeting the same would’ve been out years ago.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Twitter went to great lengths to avoid banning Trump. A random citizen tweeting the same would’ve been out years ago.

A Twitter account devoted to repeating Trump’s tweets verbatim was hit with several suspensions in the past. Trump was not. So you’re not entirely wrong…

Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Not a fan of history I'm guessing

I think you’d be guessing wrong. I’m confident she’s acutely aware of German’s history, especially since she was born in East Germany.

Despite its history though, Germans have a fundamentally different view of Government from Americans. Americans see government interference as inherently bad and something that must be limited as much as possible. Germans have a more benevolent look of central government where a high level of government involvement is required but you do need to ensure that the involvement is done in the proper way.
(Yes, the "positions" are exaggerated and don’t account for a wide range of opinions existing in both countries but as shorthand I think they will serve)

Which now brings me to how I interpreted what she said. What I heard was that she was concerned that private companies have the kind of power that can switch off whole political organizations. A concern I’ve heard from many sides. In a more German (Merkel) view companies shouldn’t have this kind of power but it should belong to a (benevolent) government.

It’s a not unreasonable position to hold, regardless of your county’s history. It’s also not unreasonable to say you don’t want governments to have that kind of power. To be honest I’m uncertain where I fall on this spectrum. It seems companies shouldn’t act as our National Keeper of Morals but governments can also not be trusted unconditionally.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not a fan of history I'm guessing

"It seems companies shouldn’t act as our National Keeper of Morals but governments can also not be trusted unconditionally."

Which is where, eventually, personal responsibility comes into play. If people took the time to research and choose the platforms that best met their needs, we wouldn’t be in the state of false dilemma where either a corporation or government has to make the choice for you.

Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not a fan of history I'm guessing

If people took the time to research and choose the platforms that best met their needs, we wouldn’t be in the state of false dilemma where either a corporation or government has to make the choice for you.

Not quite. I can make a conscious decision to not go on Parler (and I did) but that still doesn’t mean we, as a society, should allow everything that went on there. At the same time hypothetically a situation could arise where a platform is so powerful that you’d have a hard time avoiding it. If they started to moderate certain speech, potentially disadvantaging certain groups, that might be something that we, as a society, might not want either.

(note: I specifically mentioned spectrum, indicating that I don’t feel that it’s a "dilemma", so an either-or decision. I think there must be a system of checks and balances but I’m not smart enough to think of a system that would work)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not a fan of history I'm guessing

"I can make a conscious decision to not go on Parler (and I did) but that still doesn’t mean we, as a society, should allow everything that went on there."

If they do something illegal, it should be dealt with. Otherwise, it’s far more effective to starve them of attention from the mainstream and let the free market deal with them (as happened recently with Voat) than to try and force arbitrary rules on platforms from a government that has a poor record of understanding such things.

The major problem here is that these people were briefly allowed a voice on mainstream platforms where nobody wanted them, and allowed to breed until they decided they were more expensive to keep than to kick out. When they were relegated to the likes of Stormfront, they were concerning and allowed to fester, but they didn’t have a recruiting platform in the mainstream. The best remedy is to return to that situation, and that’s only going to happen if people have to choose where they want to hang out, instead of forcing places that don’t want them to have them.

"At the same time hypothetically a situation could arise where a platform is so powerful that you’d have a hard time avoiding it"

Hypothetically, but that’s not happened. Not only are most people on multiple platforms, but they all compete with each other for attention. No matter how popular a service is, they can’t stop you doing what you want on a different platform. If a person is kicked off of all the top 5-6 platforms, they like to pretend that there’s a conspiracy involved, but usually there’s a very clear other reason.

"I think there must be a system of checks and balances"

Checks and balances of what, though? That’s the main question. You can’t force platforms to host things they don’t want to host without removing a major aspect of freedom of association, which is more troubling than Twitter telling people they’re not welcome on their property.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Not a fan of history I'm guessing

"Not a big fan of letting Nazi’s fester out of sight"

Me neither, which is why I’d rather they be herded into a place visible by law enforcement but hidden from the general population. You know where they congregate if you need to investigate, but they don’t grab random passersby in the process of their plans.

"Neither am I a big believer in the unlimited magic of the free market to fix everything."

Me neither. However, a service dependent on mass exposure and ad dollars are less likely to pander to the more objectionable and offensive aspects of society and thus not expose their audience to such things. As a child of the video nasties era in the UK, I’m generally opposed to outright government censorship. However, if the free market means that people conspiring to commit atrocities are herded into a place where they can be seen and dealt with when they step over the line into action, then so be it. The free market certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s also quite adverse to the destabilisation of society.

Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Not a fan of history I'm guessing

I failed to present a compelling argument it seems, probably because I departed from a weak position (If your position is weak, look strong but don’t engage, nincompoop – Not Sun Tzu). I think however that our views are not far apart.

I owe it to myself though to rephrase my position to try to wrestle it into some semblance of coherence. So, here goes.

We were talking about Government censorship and I feel that Merkel’s position was quite the opposite of that. She was concerned that a private platform had the power to unilaterally cut off a man that speaks for 70 million Americans. We should here also recognize that Twitter functioned as the Pied Piper for all the other platforms who now felt safe to also ban the Trumpeter from their platform.

While we could like the resulting Trumpless silence, as I strongly suspect Merkel does too, we never make rules and legislation for situations where we like the outcome or when the decision maker is on our side. We make them for when the decisions are made by people that we do not like. So that, even if we don’t like the decision, we can still accept that they were consistent and according to law and order. That might hearken back to Merkel’s recognition of her country’s dark past, by the way.

I can sympathize with that sentiment and I think that the situation bears thinking about.

Yes I know, weak tea "Let’s think about something". Not a clarion call to action but it’s all I got.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Not a fan of history I'm guessin

"She was concerned that a private platform had the power to unilaterally cut off a man that speaks for 70 million Americans."

But, every private service he uses has that power. It’s concerning if people wish to change this, as it means the government removing control of their own property from these private entities.

"We should here also recognize that Twitter functioned as the Pied Piper for all the other platforms who now felt safe to also ban the Trumpeter from their platform."

Or, it’s clear that he was abusing the terms of service for every one of those services, and the act of inspiring armed insurrection that left 5 people dead was the impetus for them to finally take action on it. A more concerning alternative is that a government official is expected to be able to break the terms of service at will with no consequences purely because of the office he holds.

"While we could like the resulting Trumpless silence"

There is no Trumpless silence, he’s free to use hundreds of other methods to speak, which include those owned and operated by his government, and by private corporations that actually do want him on their property. He chose Twitter to rant like a toddler and spread dangerous misinformation at all hours of the day, but it was far from his only option to do so.

royleith (profile) says:

My Free Speech

I know it’s off-topic, but I want to rant about a serious limitation to my free speech. I wanted a column to express my political views in print and on the web-site of The Wall Street Journal.

I was shocked, shocked to be refused. I thought it might be because the editor disagreed with my point of view. In fact, I could not find any publication anywhere in the world that would play fair and host my free speech.

My only outlet was on something called Social Media which is only provided to support friends, family and acquaintances keep in touch.

Lucky old President Don who can go global on Voice of America (well, perhaps only for the time being) and national on TV and radio stations any time he wants to. He can even take out adverts on almost any sort of digital or analogue media he likes ‘cos he is rich, so rich.

It’s SO unfair. There’s going to be trouble!

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s why startups are at home in America, free speech is guaranteed, section 230 protects them, meanwhile every country in the EU has slightly different laws Re content and moderation
So there’s no one in the EU making the next
Facebook or Google or instagram
And that’s before you take into account the need to filter all content including images audio etc under new EU laws
Free speech has limits even in the USA
Big tech has decided hate speech and
encouraging harm and illegal violent acts is it
and now that trump has provoked an insurrection its time to act
No one has a divine right to a twiitter or YouTube account

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BG (profile) says:

"It’s quite ridiculous for her now to complain that companies are doing what she and her government have been demanding all along."

I suspect her complaint isn’t really about Twitter banning The Tangerine Panda, it’s the fact a private company did so without being instructed to do so by her / any government. I think she sees this action as the thin end of the wedge and can see that this may potentially limit what she can say / communicate on a private platform in the future.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In which case, the proper response to that is to point out the massive concessions given to Trump over the years where he was allowed to post things that would have gotten anyone else banned from the platform long ago. That it took a literal armed insurrection attempt to prevent a democratic election from being completed for them to take action should give her comfort, not concern.

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