The swift and widespread deplatforming of President Donald Trump has broader, global consequences, forcing other countries to assess their communication channels for potential risks to national security, experts say.
World leaders including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack have condemned recent moves by some of the world’s largest tech companies, arguing the companies violated free speech protocols and have too much power. Others, such as Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, have accused their censorship of Trump as being motivated by partisan politics.
Experts told The Epoch Times this censorship by Big Tech could cause countries to consider developing their own platforms rather than depend on a handful of private U.S. companies that have the ability to cut off communication to millions. Ethical concerns have also been raised, as well as what to do about Section 230, an outdated law protecting platforms from litigation for content their users post, which critics and lawmakers say needs to be repealed or reformed.
Any ideologically driven decision to censor political speech is going to have ramifications, said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute and a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger: China.
Mosher said the companies are “grossly underestimating” the number of people in and out of governments overseas who support Trump.
“It will spark a massive move off of their platforms to other existing and new platforms that will be created,” Mosher told The Epoch Times. “In fact, a few years down the road, we may well be talking about how they destroyed their own business model. This move will cost them and their shareholders tens of billions of dollars.”
Harsh Madhusudan, a public markets investor based in India, wrote in a Twitter post: “We must build our own social media platforms. This is too much power in the hands of a private company.” Many expressed similar views.
Twitter has permanently banned Trump’s account, while Facebook and Instagram have blocked him from posting on their platforms at least until the transition to President-elect Joe Biden is complete. Snapchat and Twitch have also disabled Trump’s account. Meanwhile, Stripe, which handles payments and transactions on many websites, has said it will no longer process payments for Trump’s campaign.
The global consequences of being deplatformed by Big Tech are major, according to digital privacy expert Attila Tomaschek. If Twitter and other platforms want to send a message that incitements of violence will not be tolerated, “they should be consistent in their responses rather than picking and choosing which world leaders should have a voice … and which shouldn’t,” he said.
“It is curious why, then, have other high-profile accounts, which have much more directly called for violence in the recent past, not been de-platformed in the same way,” Tomaschek told The Epoch Times, pointing to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei.
Big Tech, as private companies, are free to operate their platforms as they see fit, he noted, including establishing safety and security policies and suspending users who violate any policies or otherwise breach the terms of service.
While it’s unlikely social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter will ban foreign leaders any time soon, which would create more negative media attention, the recent moves against Trump “demonstrate that they have the power to do so,” said Andrew Selepak, social media professor at the University of Florida.
“Right-leaning politicians in other countries should be the most concerned that these platforms appear to be targeting individuals and politicians that are conservative or promote right-wing ideologies,” Selepak told The Epoch Times.
Big Tech’s censorship of Trump could be used as justification for some countries to potentially ban Twitter and Facebook, said Selepak, who noted that many want to create their own Silicon Valley.
Other countries—particularly those with more authoritarian governments—could make similar censorship moves such as creating their own “nationalistic social media in parts of the world” that thwart open communication, said Selepak.
With a likely Democrat-controlled White House and Congress, it is unlikely action will be taken to change Section 230. While the act’s legislation is outdated, politicians have provided few alternatives to the law, Selepak said.
“Instead, politicians have relinquished their authority to the big tech companies to allow them to decide how social media will be monitored and policed,” Selepak said.
While publishers can be held liable for any content they post, social media platforms are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Ryan Mauro, the Clarion Project’s national security analyst and Shillman fellow and director of Clarion Intelligence Network, questioned if Twitter’s ban was really about safety and security. Twitter could set up a delay on Trump’s tweets so they could block those they felt could inspire violence, he noted.
“Wouldn’t that have been smarter, fairer, less dangerous to free speech and better for Twitter’s stock value?” Mauro told The Epoch Times. “Cancel culture and censorship contributes mightily to the radicalization that Twitter says it wants to combat.”
According to Mauro, one of the important factors in radicalization is echo chambers where the like-minded can meet, plot, and reinforce their alternate realities. It is better for extremists or those who could be influenced by extremism to be in a forum where their ideas can be challenged, and to be exposed to information that can de-radicalize them.
“There’s a strong argument for destroying the ability of designated terrorist groups like ISIS to communicate via social media, but those are targeted actions,” Mauro said. “This measure is broad and sets a dangerous precedent.”
Los Angeles-based constitutional attorney Robert Barnes said no country should allow social media platforms to censor speech within their borders, especially speech by its elected officials.
“Creating alternative platforms will be critical, both in the U.S. and abroad,” Barnes told The Epoch Times.
“Twitter will likely face a securities class action because their conduct can be considered fraud on the market costing shareholders $4B in value,” he said.
Barnes said it is “long overdue” for the United States to amend Section 230 to make protecting First Amendment activities a condition for the immunity of social media monopolies.