In April 2019, Facebook banned several far-right groups for being “dangerous”. In June, YouTube began banning videos promoting racial supremacism, while Twitter has also booted far-right figures off its platform. The bannings have led to howls of political bias (with US President Donald Trump even setting up an online tool to report “censorship” on social media platforms). So, what’s the right approach?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Civis, who suggests that freedom of speech comes with responsibility. Civas thinks that there should be some limits to free speech, particularly where there is the potential for violence.
To get a response, we put Civas’ comment to Eva Simon, Senior Advocacy Officer for the Civil Liberties Union for Europe. What would she say?
I agree that freedom of expression is something that is very important and our democracy is based on, among other values, freedom of expression. But it’s not an unlimited right. The question is: how much limitation we think is valid and useful for democratic society. And there are pretty good tests elaborated by the European human rights court and also the literature of legal cases and fundamental rights.
I think the question here is what kind of limitations we believe we should have and I think we can use the three item test here. One is that the limitation always has to be prescribed by law. The limitation has to be necessary, so there should be some pressing social need to limit freedom of expression. And, any type of limitation has to be proportionate.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Matej, who argues that censoring extremist groups on social media is like “putting a band-aid over a broken window” and fails to tackle the root of the problem, or provide a lasting solution. He also adds that censoring these groups would likely have the reverse effect, and actually encourage their growth. Is he right?
How would Eva Simon respond?
This is a very interesting question and this is the real debate we are having all over Europe regarding extremists online and how to tackle the problem of extremism. My understanding is that his question is whether it is effective or not to ban anyone from social media platforms. And the answer for that really depends on what we ban and how we ban certain content from the internet. Because what we can see if something is banned, in a few minutes or a few hours, alternatives appear and they spread the same kind of information.
On the other hand, the question is how we and why we believe that banning is a solution instead of getting into debates. And for this I think we should also tackle the problem of the roles of these big social media platforms or not only social media platforms but big platforms where users can upload their comment such as Facebook, YouTube, even Twitter or Google, some of the big ones, how they delete and when they delete certain content.
Should extremist and far-right groups be banned on social media? Or does that just allow them to claim a moral victory? Is it more effective to debate and discredit them publicly? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!