On 6 January 2021, Twitter and Facebook banned Donald Trump from their platforms. They argued that by spreading misinformation he had been an inciting influence behind the US Capitol Hill rampage. How did we get here? How could a single person’s Tweets be powerful enough to start a riot? And when did we decide that social media executives should get to make the call about who gets to speak on their platforms and who doesn’t?

The European Union certainly sees a need to act on social media companies and the platforms they operate. The Digital Services Act, currently under discussion between the EU institutions, aims to regulate the types of content moderation large platforms are expected (and allowed) to undertake.

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Karina, who sees no problem with social media bans. She argues that social media platforms “are allowed to do what they want as far as banning content” because they are private companies.

We brought Karina’s comment to Prabhat Agarwal, who is the Head of Unit responsible for the Digital Services Act at the European Commission. How would he respond to Karina?

This is an interesting question and one we grappled with when we were designing the Digital Services Act. Freedom of Speech is one of the European Union’s founding values, and it is guaranteed under the Charter, but it also has limits. Incitement to hatred, or anti-semitic violence, for example, are not protected speech. We expect companies to act on illegal content to ensure that the online environment is safe for users and bans are an important tool to ensure that their services are not abused. We recognise this in the Digital Services Act.

However, in the DSA, we ask companies to be clear about the terms under which such suspensions occur and to be consistent and diligent when enforcing them. Such bans are for the first time subject to redress mechanisms and can actually be challenged. This is an important element to ensure that user rights are fully respected. This is a very prominent element in the new regulation.

To get another perspective, we also brought Karina’s comment to Alexandra Geese, a German Member of the European Parliament for the Green/EFA group who has been closely involved with the Digital Services Act proposal. What would she say?

Freedom of expression is already strongly limited for a huge amount of the population. Women, for example, receive so much hate speech online that a majority of them say they don’t feel free to express their opinion on the internet. The same is true for young people and people who belong to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority. Clearly, we already have strong limitations of freedom of speech online. The question is, how do we balance freedom of expression and moderation of harmful content.

Next up, we asked Benjamin Fischer, Programme Officer at the Alfred Landecker Foundation, a Berlin-based organisation supporting open digital democracy, what he would say to Karina’s comment:

If this debate was only about questions of legality, it would be easy to just remove illegal content. However, we know that the online sphere is rigged by algorithms that nudge people into more and more extreme narratives. Social media platforms and politicians are engaged in a blame game about content moderation that is not offering proper solutions. We need to empower civil society actors to disrupt these dynamics and promote an open debate on how we as a society want to interact with one another online.

Someone who feels disconnected from the so-called “mainstream” discourse is our reader Franck. He tells us that he’s lost all faith in established news sources, sarcastically commenting: “Acceptable propaganda is mainstream media, anything else is fake news & conspiracy, everybody knows that.”

We asked Alex Agius-Saliba, a Maltese MEP for the S&D group and the rapporteur of the Digital Services Act, what he would say to Franck. Shouldn’t social media be a safe space for someone who feels disconnected from “mainstream media”?

Yes, it should be. But the internet should not be a safe space for illegal content. The DSA creates a level playing field between the online and offline world. Obviously, this is difficult because certain types of speech may be illegal in Germany but not in Malta. Here, we quickly get into the more complicated issue of speech that is not clearly illegal but still may be harmful. I do not think that companies should have the right to delete this type of content unilaterally. We would risk over-removal of content and infringe upon our citizens’ fundamental rights to free speech.

Next, we brought the same comment to Josephine Ballon, Head of Legal at HateAid, a consultation centre for victims of digital violence. How would she respond to Franck’s cynicism?

The internet promises that everyone can have free access to information, but social media platforms create filter bubbles where every user, including Franck, is only confronted with a certain narrative. Malicious actors have been using these dynamics to strategically spread disinformation and hate speech. People use social media to participate in real-life discourse; the online world is not a separate entity and I believe that social media would benefit from a more balanced discourse that does not create these filter bubbles.

We also asked Alexandra Geese for her thoughts on this complicated issue.

Censoring content is very dangerous. We shouldn’t give that power to tech companies, and we shouldn’t give that power to governments. The real issue is transparency. Right now, the platforms can do whatever they want because there is no scrutiny of the data they collect and how they use it. The corporations behind these platforms make more money if the content they promote is polarising. Therefore, the European institutions must stop these companies from collecting so much data to ensure that information on the internet flows freely and not just in the most profitable way for the platforms.

Do social media bans violate free speech? Or are they necessary to create a safe online environment? How can we balance freedom of expression and freedom from harm online? Do you feel censored online? Let us know your thoughts below and we will bring your comments to experts and policymakers!

IMAGE CREDITS: Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

72 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    You either have free speech or you have limited speech. There is no middle ground.

  2. avatar

    The only thing that is banned is own thinking, own ideas. only one thought is allowed, the herd that goes one way, no one can decide to go the other way because that would already be offensive. It seems that humanity does not learn from the mistakes of the past. Cominism, Marxism and Socialism the kings of censorship, enemys of personal individuality and freedom of expression.

  3. avatar

    Social media giants must be regulated by law (international, not US or other country), not making own rules and also braking those themselves by taking decisions based on political etc. views or current needs of a small group of management or even worse (such as low qualified content managers). Today, large comanies such as twitter fb etc. put themselves above the governments and it os clear – they have no brders between countries.

  4. avatar

    For me this highlights a contradiction in liberal ideology. Western governments and Big Tech are increasingly restricting speech in order to suppress values and ideas considered harmful (what they consider climate-skepticism, COVID skepticism, conspiracy theories sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamism, election contestation..). Fine.Throughout history, such controls have long been justified – and not unreasonably – on grounds of promoting order, social harmony, and right values. On the other hand, this blurs the distinction between liberal governments and the authoritarian governments they claim to be morally superior to.

  5. avatar

    Interesting debate. I want to bring in another element, probably, helpful to everyone – those who allegedly get censored by platforms removing their posts and comments, and those who get harassed. Whatever platforms do – it is not easy to challenge their decisions or go after someone who harassed you online if you are a regular user. The courts are very expensive and slow. It make sense to have some sort of fast track access to court on things related to internet content.

    • avatar
      catherine benning


      Do social media bans violate free speech?

      What you seem to find acceptable, censorship by online forums, is by very definition against the human right of free speech. Or, is that alien to your understanding of what it means to ‘allow’ people the ‘freedom’ to speak their mind?

      This notion that a persons viewpoint, no matter what that viewpoint may be, must be challenged in any form, is a medieval acceptance of total authority over another’s thinking. Men are incarcerated in the West today for ‘free thinking.’ So, the notion of ‘you can’t go to jail for what you are thinking,’ is a misnomer you collude in.

      I wonder how this was ever considered acceptable by a civilised and so called tolerant society??? Any ideas?

  6. avatar

    We need to look at when a person is ready to give a free speech and when the person is ready is the person sane normal at the time. From those too you can say that a person is first in a learning fase to become ready, meaning everyone has the right to learn, to have education. When the learning is sufficient a person is ready to use free speech on the condition that the person is sane at the moment. The person need to be sane at the moment because the communication runs trough and is with other sane persons. When a person is not sane and for example talks with a psychiater it is called therapie. People distinguish sane and insane, for that reason people don’t like a grey zone or a mix of the two, communications need to be clear and it will stay between sane people.

  7. avatar
    Kahraman Marangoz

    We need to look at when a person is ready to give a free speech and when the person is ready is the person sane normal at the time. From those too you can say that a person is first in a learning fase to become ready, meaning everyone has the right to learn, to have education. When the learning is sufficient a person is ready to use free speech on the condition that the person is sane at the moment. The person need to be sane at the moment because the communication runs trough and is with other sane persons. When a person is not sane and for example talks with a psychiater it is called therapie. People distinguish sane and insane, for that reason people don’t like a grey zone or a mix of the two, communications need to be clear and it will stay between sane people. Free speech between sane people.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      Kahraman Marangoz

      Do social media bans violate free speech?

      And who do you suggest determines the insane? And the reason I give you this to regurgitate is, the world and nation leadership we presently have would have been considered totally mad a very few short years ago. In fact, a few of them, at the very leadership role would have been involuntarily put into a sanatorium. So, if the insane are in charge, who is going to declare what is sane???

      Also, it’s a very suitable situation for mad leaders to remain vague when practiced in public leadership and find people accept this as normal, the way it is today. In fact, a sign of insanity is an inescapable lack of clarity as logic is illusory to those who seek to control via distorted thinking. To be clear would be a death knell to them.

  8. avatar

    la censure a toujours existé ! bien sur elle viol la liberté d’expréssion ! cela dit pourquoi Facebook ou Twitter bloque Trump ?? pour c’est propos ?? NON ! pour l’image ! après je déteste Trump mais la on viol c’est droits et si il redevient Président un jour je voudrais pas être Facebook ou Twitter ils vont manger ! business business c’est l’Amérique !

  9. avatar

    privately owned companies’ products like social media networks don’t fall under ANY form of free speech law, so NO, they aren’t in violation in any way, shape or form. These are FACTS, and facts are not debatable. End of discussion, bye!

  10. avatar

    If u have to ask u might be blind.

  11. avatar

    With foreign multinationals that have the power to impose their narratives, to influence an election, the information, and therefore the destiny of countries, it seems unlikely to me that they will not end up regulated for this reason.The algorithms of social networks tend to format the information that depends on them and that seeks visibility.There is not much space left to exist politically outside of these platforms.

  12. avatar

    No. Right to free speech is not the right to a platform.

  13. avatar

    I grew up with 4chan, saw a lot that is still burned into my brains till today. But I’m happy I saw the dark side of the world cause nowday you can’t even swear in a youtube video people are getting weak and can’t accept any other opion than their own, the algoritm of every site that gives personal stuff is also part of that problem cause you only see what you want to see.

  14. avatar

    Trump ne s’est jamais gêné pour censurer et museler les média. La suspension de son compte, ce n’est finalement que la réponse du berger à la bergère.

  15. avatar

    Yes they do…in belgium they closed an account because 50000 people in 3 days joined it to support a military man that stood up for his believes…just because they are afraid we,belgian people, also would stand up…

  16. avatar

    it’s hypocritical if they then dont ban literal extremists and terrorists of other countries, languages, regions, leaders

  17. avatar

    and certain companies have such monopolies they are not country powerful but globally powerful , so more than governments, and or they sometimes do things for their governments or powerful, it is just extra steps.

  18. avatar

    and even journalists and media can be extremely biased left, right, religious, center, up down or whatever ideologies

  19. avatar

    I think Zuckerberg algorithms are turning into Gestapo practices. It’s only getting worse over time.

  20. avatar

    The Taliban and Hamas, two terrorist groups are on twitter but not the former potus.

  21. avatar
    Andre L

    Above a hypothetical censorship there should be other values. Maybe here it’s more about social media and how it’s being used in terms of raw social engineering. I understand the measures, after all, above all, social networks, each one has its policy of use. Because it’s free, people forget that they’re using a service. Measures must also be seen by those who apply them or why they are influenced to apply measures. Although I think the measures to contain these phenomena that tend to get worse are correct, I think it inevitably leaves this underlying issue, freedom of expression (nowadays confused by the power to influence the masses, with mediocre and generic rhetoric.).

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Andre L

      Your first line is inaccurate.. It is not free… Nothing is free.. It is paid for indirectly. And this kind of social engineering is paid for by those who want maximum influence and control over the minds of the herd.

      Much of what you write is gobbledegook..What do you mean by ‘Measures must also be seen by those who apply them or why they are influenced to apply measures…. Please give us a break.. You are clearly suffering from doublespeak… Could be a result of ‘brain washing.’

  22. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do social media bans violate free speech?

    Will this mans free speech be violated? It should be a veritable priority every man woman and child sees this mans speech, under the prerogative of democracy and the human rights that go with that particular ideology…


  23. avatar

    No, since they can still say whatever they want. Free speech is about being free to say things but not about guaranteeing an audience.

  24. avatar

    Odd they invest more time blocking politicians than paedophiles !

  25. avatar

    Yes because they dont like it when ppl like Trump tell them the truth in their face its called freedom of speech.Same like European Union

  26. avatar

    The one who is not allowed to speak must be telling the truth, is what I believe most people assume these days. In a sense we are living in a ‘theocracy’ which permits only one narrative and treats people who don’t believe as outcasts and blasphemers. This kind of oppression has the opposite effect and eventually starts to feel evil and wrong.

  27. avatar

    Shutting down people or blocking whole media channels which does not sing the same song as government is called “fighting misinformation” nowadays.. or did i miss something 🤔
    Giant social platforms as media is a separate topic as those companies have grown far beyond countries’ borsers and don’t need amy court decision to decise what is right and what is wrong, who can speak and who should not.

  28. avatar

    A newspaper is not required to publish any letter sent in. These are private enterprises that can decide what to promote using their property and assets and what not, as long as doing so is actually legal in a given jurisdiction.

  29. avatar

    They should. I understand private businesses rights, but the same way a business can’t deny you service because of race, sex, origin, neither should they be allowed to censor your freedom of speech. Specially social media, having the power to influence as they do. Look how many things were censored and have come to light as being true.

  30. avatar

    No. Social media is not a human right. It is private property. And it should stay this way. We do not need to centralise it and put it in the hands of the government

  31. avatar

    Musk doing the ‘dirty work’ for his ‘Lord’ — FATSO TRUMPIE and FATOS TRUMPIE’s MAGA

  32. avatar
    JT HK

    It appears that the word “free” has been using to attack all conventional values upon which human civilizations are founded. Learn how freedom has been destroying this foundation in the “beacon of democracy”>>> https://www.indiatoday.in/…/women-prisoners-new-jersey…

  33. avatar

    Does censorship violate free speech?
    – Only when it’s done in China and Russia.
    In EU and USA it’s called “protecting from misinformation”.

  34. avatar

    What is public has rules everyone should follow. If you don’t like that then you need to go to websites that are not public but private controlled and even those sites have to follow guidelines and laws. Why it is not good to divide? It can create problems where there could be riots and clashes, violence, there can be deaths or injured people. That is something what is important to avoid from happening. When people want to divide offline or online that must be stopped, it is a responsibility to be taken by the official government.

  35. avatar

    Social media should be regulated adapting the rules applied to all media. Some restrictions are needed to ensure freedom and avoid manipulation. I am not free to insult everybody on the street. Why should I be on social media?

    • avatar

      you are free to insult on the street,but not on Twatter.

  36. avatar

    Social media platforms are business enterprises, they aren’t governments…they collect and sell data and sell ads. People should worry about real issues in real countries.

  37. avatar

    Yes, social media bans violate the right to speak an opinion, have an opinion and form an opinion.
    The more they censor, the less we believe.

    • avatar

      I might be wrong, please God I am, But this feels to me like free speech could become even more restricted 🤔.

  38. avatar

    When social media giants decide what is true and what is not, when they define your opinion on things by filtering what you can see using hidden / non-transparent algorithms, when they block tweets and whole accounts of people who have millions of followers (and that with no clear decision making processes), when they are above the jurisdictions and judgment systems – hell yes, those social media giants are violating free speech right!

  39. avatar

    Social media bans violate free speech

  40. avatar

    You either have a free speech or you have a limited speech.

  41. avatar
    Anglophile Central European Media

    No. Abusive statements and accusations not backed up by evidence should not be regarded as free speech, especially where they are threatening or inciting violence. I will leave Twitter if such bans are dropped.

    • avatar

      then why are you still supporting Twatter,it has always banned anything that it decides is unpalatable to itself.

  42. avatar
    Βασίλης Αλέξανδρος

    If they ban progressives, yes it’s a free speech violation, automatically and without exception. If they ban centrists, libertarians, conservatives, anyone who dares to be on the right or anyone with an IQ, no its not a free speech violation and is always warranted without the need to be impartial.

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