Getting to grips with . . .

Should Twitter have the power to ban Donald Trump’s account?

Critics describe the move as ‘censorship’ based on ‘political preferences’

World leaders including Angela Merkel are wading into the row over Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump from the social media platform after his supporters stormed Capitol Hill last week.

“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” a spokesperson for the German leader told reporters yesterday. “Given that, the chancellor considers it problematic that the president’s accounts have been permanently suspended.”

The ban on Trump has fuelled a long-running debate about social media regulation. As CNBC notes, one of the key issues is “whether these companies should be treated as publishers rather than tech firms - meaning they would be more accountable for the content available on their platforms”.

Trump and some US legislators have previously called for an end to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which blocks liability claims in America against social media companies for users’ posts on their sites.

But while “Section 230 was seen as a protection of free speech”, says the news site, Twitter’s veto on the president has triggered fears that platforms may ban other voices, in response to political, social or financial pressure.

In a post on Twitter, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny writes that the Trump ban is “an unacceptable act of censorship” that was “based on emotions and personal political preferences”. 

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has also “blasted” the move as a “bad sign” that private companies have the power to censor opinions, Al Jazeera reports.

“I don’t like anybody being censored or taking away from the right to post a message on Twitter or Facebook,” Obrador said during a regular news conference on Friday.

“A court of censorship like the Inquisition to manage public opinion - this is really serious.” 

Other critics have argued that “in a world where Donald Trump is banned from social media for inciting hate, so too should be Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte”, says Quartz.

Duterte has used Twitter to call for vigilantes to take violent action against drug dealers, yet like “India’s political elite who promote communal violence”, is allowed to continue spreading his message online.

Not everyone is convinced that Twitter has made the wrong call in singling out Trump, however.

The Independent’s opinion editor Chris Stevenson insists that “there is no legal responsibility for any privately-owned platform to host the president’s views” - and points out that the outgoing president still has plenty of other ways to air his views.

With the “White House press pack in attendance”, if Trump “wants something put out there, millions will be able to see or hear it”, says Stevenson. 

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