Global leaders are slamming decisions by American social media giants to ban President Trump from their platforms, in many cases separating their personal opinions of the president from their unease over the sweeping power that American Big Tech firms such as Twitter and Facebook now wield.
Twitter last week said it permanently suspended Mr. Trump’s main account, with its 80 million-plus followers, because of the “risk of further incitement of violence” after last week’s brief, violent occupation of the Capitol by Trump supporters.
Other major social media sites quickly followed suit, including Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitch and, as of Tuesday, YouTube.
For many beyond U.S. shores, the issue wasn’t what Mr. Trump said but that private companies had the power to all but shut down his and his followers’ accounts digitally.
“I don’t like censorship,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters in Mexico City this week. “I don’t like anyone to be censored, and for them to have their right taken away to send a message on Twitter or on Facebook.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Mr. Trump’s fiercest critics in Western Europe, and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were among the first to sound the alarm about what one critic called the “digital oligarchy.”
Social media companies “bear great responsibility for political communication not being poisoned by hatred, by lies and by incitement to violence,” Ms. Merkel said through her spokesman this week. But the limits of online speech should be “defined by legislators — not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
“Seen from this angle, the chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire condemned what he called Mr. Trump’s “lies” but said Twitter and other companies had overstepped.
“What shocks me is that Twitter is the one to close his account. The regulation of the digital world cannot be done by the digital oligarchy,” he said on French television.
Europe is in the midst of a push to tighten restrictions on the social media giants. The European Union last month announced sweeping reforms that seek to place limits on their expansion and authorize protections for users from digital harm.
“The fact that a CEO can pull the plug on [Mr. Trump’s] loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing,” Thierry Breton, a prominent EU commissioner involved in the reform push, wrote in an opinion piece for Politico. “It is not only confirmation of the power of these platforms, but it also displays deep weaknesses in the way our society is organized in the digital space.”
Matt Hancock, health secretary in the government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said the social media industry’s moves against Mr. Trump raise some big regulatory questions.
“I think it raises a very important question, which is it means that the social media platforms are taking editorial decisions,” Mr. Hancock told Sky News this week. “And that is a very big question because then it raises questions about their editorial judgments and the way that they’re regulated.”
Sympathizing with Trump
Some foreign leaders more sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s agenda expressed the fear that they might be next — that liberal-leaning Silicon Valley giants would move to restrict their more conservative views.
In Poland, right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a lengthy Facebook post that the Silicon Valley companies seek “to ensure political correctness the way they like it and to fight those who oppose them.”
“Censoring free speech, the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, returns today … to combat those who think differently,” he said. “Which views are right and which are not cannot be decided by algorithms or owners of corporate giants.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov joked that the ban now gives him and Mr. Trump “something in common,” the Financial Times reported.
“Whereas previously he blocked my accounts on social networks, now the Almighty God has restored justice, and, as a result, the accounts of the mutinous Donald Trump were also blocked,” Mr. Kadyrov wrote.
Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Mr. Trump’s suspension equates to censorship.
“I would say to the owners of Twitter: If you’re going to take down the comments of who is still the American president, you need to think also about the photo, the doctored image, which shows a soldier, supposedly an Australian digger, with a child in his arms, about to do harm to that child,” said Mr. McCormack, referring to a fake image of an Australian soldier that circulated online decapitating an Afghan child, according to Australian news reports. “That has not been taken down, and that is wrong.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a particularly close ally of Mr. Trump, pointed to what he said was a double standard that silenced Mr. Trump but allowed Nicolas Maduro, the socialist president of Venezuela, post his thoughts on Twitter.
“A world where Maduro is on social media but Trump is suspended cannot be normal,” Eduardo Bolsonaro said.
Mr. Navalny, perhaps the most effective critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the online blocking of Mr. Trump’s Twitter and Facebook accounts “was based on emotions and political preferences.”
“Don’t tell me he was banned for violating Twitter rules,” Mr. Navalny said on his own Twitter account over the weekend. “I get death threats here every day for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone (not that I ask for it).”
A handful of pro-free speech organizations have condemned the Trump ban. The American Civil Liberties Union said last week that “it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”