May 11, 2021

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

By Mike Masnick
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.