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Malta’s MEPs Weigh In On Trump’s Twitter Ban And EU’s Plans To Regulate Big Tech 

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Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump has cast a spotlight on the immense power wielded by ‘Big Tech’, but few may be aware that plans are in the pipeline which could change the way the internet and social media works for everyone in Malta.

Last December, the European Commission unveiled two Acts to regulate Big Tech companies across the continent, which would force them to be transparent in the way they rank and delete content, make them responsible for taking down illegal content, and ban them from using data they collect from businesses they host when competing against them. 

After Twitter banned Trump, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said these Acts have become more even more important.

“The fact that a CEO can pull the plug on POTUS’s loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing. 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.”

In light of this debate, which is sure to intensify in the coming months, Lovin Malta asked Malta’s six MEPs what they make of Trump’s Twitter ban and the two Acts – the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act. 

Here’s how they responded: 

1. Alfred Sant (PL):

On Trump’s Twitter ban: 

“Social means of communication including the traditional media outlets which are going digital in a big way will continue to be undergo huge transformations.

Traditional ways of “regulating” them… even when recently updated… have not been able to cope with the arising scenarios.

Yet it would be naïve to believe that only recently developed social media tools allow for rampant political bias and mobilisation.

The same happened… still does… with “traditional” media, even if independent, so-called.

The “free speech” doctrine has allowed this to happen in the past and is now in a bind to stop it from happening today, even as social media platforms have demonstrated a huge efficiency in delivering and spreading messages on a mass scale.

“Traditional”  “independent” media blocked and subverted Trump’s message, whatever it was, and he turned – successfully –  to social media to counter the blockage.

They’re privately owned… but most media have always been like that, with political allegiances that would mostly and/or preferably remain hidden.”

On the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act 

” They’re works in progress. So is the underlying situation in the digital communications and services field.

This is developing at an unprecedented pace, creating totally new situations. Legislating for them is not easy and regulations lag on the emerging developments.

I’m seeing this at first hand in financial services, working on a regulation covering digital operational resilience for institutions that carry billions of euros day in day out, and must be sure that their financial digital inputs and outputs are safe from all attack. It’s a moving target.”

2. Roberta Metsola (PN)

On Trump’s Twitter ban:

“Inciting violence is wrong. The events in Washington have shown how social networks, created for good, can be abused of and that is something that must be tackled. The rules for using social media platforms are clear and must be respected by anyone using them, whether you are the President of the United States or anyone else.

At the same time, I am equally uncomfortable with social media platforms having unfettered right to choose what people see online and what people can write online. There must be a better way.  There needs to be a system of laws and regulations that deal with how we interact online – and that is what we are trying to achieve in the European Union.”

On the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act:

“We need stronger oversight mechanisms, better-defined rules, and clearer obligations on platforms. We need to have more and better information about what happens to our data and who has access to it when this is stored outside the EU.

The EU has taken the lead. It is not only the digital services act – when it comes to terrorist content online, for example, we have just approved a system that forces platforms to take down dangerous content within a very short time frame.

More worrying to me is the reports we are seeing of countries threatening massive fines to platforms who in their words ‘censor’ politicians. There must be limits, there must be regulations and it must be Europe acting together that deals with it.

I hope that the European Union becomes a world-leading regulator on this issue and if we get this right, I have no doubt the so-called ‘Brussels effect’ will spread to the rest of the world.“

3. Alex Agius Saliba (PL)

On Trump’s Twitter ban:

“I think we can all agree that online platforms have become indispensable in our lives. But at the same time, this has helped them acquire unprecedented powers by becoming rule setters in their rights and creating a digital environment suited to their vested interests. We all have witnessed the recent events in Washington, which also lead us to question the role of social media and digital services seriously. Social media plays an essential role in how information reaches people and how this affects their behaviour, decisions, and actions.

The recent events are examples of the enormous power social media and digital services have been given over our lives. It is alarming to provide such power of censorship to private companies that can decide everything in our lives. I don’t believe it is up to platforms to regulate democracy and the rule of law. It’s up to public institutions.

There are diverging opinions on recent events with Twitter and Facebook. However, one thing is clear – that there are high risks when private companies refuse to host or support speech, or even when a group of companies comes together to ensure that individual speech or speakers are effectively taken offline altogether. It is also worrying when the decision is lower down to the technical stack, where it is even harder to find alternatives.

For example, Facebook and Twitter are at the top of the technical stack. If users are blocked from such platforms, they still can find alternatives or maybe even communication channels and complaints mechanisms with those services. The lower you go in the technical infrastructure, the greater the concerns for free expression, especially when there are few competitors, if any at all, in their areas.

For example, if the only broadband provider in your area cuts a company or a user’s because they do not like what they are saying or what they are posting, there is nowhere else to go. It is like a Phone Company starting to make decisions about whom you can call because they might not like what you will say on the phone.

The critical debate for me is how decisions about speech are made in the long run. The current legal framework is not sufficient to provide us with the right instruments and solutions. New rules are more necessary than ever. We need to take back control of the digital world and adopt a transparent, fair, comprehensive set of rules. We need laws that can preserve democracy, public interests, and people’s freedoms and choices. We need regulations to protect and safeguard citizens’ rights and guarantee a better and safer digital environment in a virtual world with no borders.”

On the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act:

“The digital transformation has profoundly changed the functioning of the global economy and society. Unfortunately, the existing legal framework is lagging and needs an update in several areas. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act that the Commission proposed in December are the first comprehensive and horizontal update of the current legal framework introduced 20 years ago. There is no doubt that both those proposals will be a game-changer for Europe and the world’s digital future.

The DSA is a first good step forward, but will it be enough? The critical issues for me lie in the unregulated digital practices designed to maximise user attention based on illegal or sensationalist content. Such harmful methods and business models need to be addressed in the DSA and DMA to guarantee a better and safer digital environment while empowering people to make their own informed decisions and choices.

Essential for the DSA will be to create a safer digital space for all users, where fundamental rights and public interests, the users’ and consumers’ rights are protected consistently throughout all Member States. It is already a positive step that both DSA and DMA are Regulations. It is also vital to strengthen a few fundamental principles, such as the principle of “what is illegal offline is also illegal online,” together with consumer protection and user safety principles.

As I said, we must regulate online harmful business models, manipulation, and discriminatory practices designed to maximise the amount of user attention dedicated to the platform based on illegal or sensationalist content. And to this end, we need to go beyond some of the measures proposed by the Commission. For me, the benchmark in the coming months will be the Parliament’s position adopted in the DSA Reports. There needs to be further work to strengthen and clarify some of the provisions on notice and actions, content removal, consumer protection, know your business customer, enforcement.”

4. David Casa (PN)

On Trump’s Twitter ban:

“Donald Trump has used the platforms at his disposal to spread disinformation and incite violence and insurrection. His behaviour has caused untold harm to the fabric of democracy in the USA and will have serious repercussions across the globe.

It’s a shame that Trump’s actions and social media behaviour have led to such drastic action by platforms. We should never have arrived at such a situation.

Having said that, social media giants do require regulation. Platforms are used on a daily basis to help spread disinformation, commit fraud, terrorism, hate crimes, and blackmail. Decisions taken by these platforms can make or break businesses that have come to rely on social media for their operations. And when issues do arise, the response of social media platforms is more often than not inadequate, slow and ineffective leaving citizens with little or no recourse.”

On the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act:

“I am supportive of the objectives of the legislation proposed by the Commission.”

5. Josianne Cutajar (PL)

On Trump’s Twitter ban:

“A key question we must ask ourselves is, what role do social media platforms play in our world today? If the answer is that social media platforms are private companies offering a service to clients for free, or better, in exchange of their data, then Twitter’s move has to be seen as legitimate since a private company undoubtedly has the right to offer its services to whom they please.

If you happen to believe, such as I do, that social media platforms have become an essential component not only of political debate, but of our economy and society in their entirety, and that they represent a public good in that they provide an essential communication infrastructure, then this takes us to another level of discussion. In view of this Twitter’s move raises important questions on both the matter of free speech and the role of both social media platforms and public institutions in relation to free speech today. 

Social media platforms today are the principal means through which public opinion is driven. This, however, is having consequences on the health of our economy and social well-being that we are yet to properly evaluate. 

Far too often, social media is impinging on the roles of both legacy and online information media and is often threatening to bypass the filters of public information and the responsibility that media outlets take upon themselves in order to verify their facts. As such, social media often ends up catering for those who seek to poison the minds of many with unverified information. This is generally referred to as “Fake News”. 

The riots the other day in Washington D.C. were a watershed moment in the history of modern western democracy, obviously not in a positive sense. We have all witnessed the power and efficacy of social media platforms in disseminating such a moment in a record period of time. One question here becomes would any other positive or beneficial political event in any other context have achieved such circulation in a matter of minutes? Whether we like it or not social media platforms are a double-edged sword. This is a matter that we should definitely put high on our present agenda for debate. 

There is no doubt in my mind that social media must be regulated through the establishment of clear responsibilities, duties and roles,  for both the platforms themselves and the relevant governmental and judicial entities. 

There is now copious literature showing that social media is polarizing society, widening the gap between groups with different beliefs and factually hampering constructive dialogue, which is a paramount element in any democracy. Speaking of constructive dialogue brings me to another point – there seems to be a huge discrepancy between the brevity and urgency required on social media platforms when debating any specific issue, and the often delicate and in-depth analysis that the issues we are facing in our age ask of us all. 

To conclude, the possibility of a private entity to permanently ban Trump, who, whether one likes it or not, wields a lot of power, should be a wake-up call to the world as to the question of where does this leave us lesser mortals. 

Truth is, as we speak and as the laws presently stand, social media platforms do have all the freedom to censor whomsoever they like at their discretion. 

Where should the line be drawn? When should one intervene? Who should be making these decisions? How should one intervene in cases that require intervention without in any way jeopardising the right to free speech?”

On the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act:

“It is sufficient to open the comment section on some social media pages to witness the presence of hate speech, incitement to violence, and fake news. We are failing as a society to effectively combat this threat to democracy and precisely in last Sunday’s speech, I referred to the importance of addressing this situation. It’s simply is no longer acceptable. 

The European Union has taken an important head start on the issue. We are currently at the early stages of debating the proposal for a Regulation on a Single Market for Digital Services as well as that for a Regulation on the Digital Markets Act presented by the European Commission. 

Europe is actively working towards creating a system of checks and balances for online platforms.  In its Digital Services Act proposal, it recognizes the societal and economic risks caused by the current laissez-fair attitudes, present everywhere on the internet. 

The Digital Services Act will be establishing new obligations for very large platforms in order to avoid their misuse while putting in place rules for removing illegal content, services, and goods – the principle here is that what is illegal offline should also be made illegal online. 

For the first time in history, the EU is prospectively moving to address intrusive online marketing practices by means of introducing transparency obligations for users. 

The Digital Markets Act is focused on tackling the so-called “gatekeepers” — dominant online platforms that determine how other companies interact with online users, to ensure these platforms do not stop others from competing for users. The proposed Act is looking to avoid the possibility of unfair conditions being possibly imposed on businesses and consumers. 

I believe we are at a turning point in the history of human communication, as we seek to rewrite and to improve the ways in which our societies are organized in the digital space. We need to open up the conversation. We need, moreover, to keep in mind that the speed at which digital technologies move is much faster than our effort to debate and legislate on their effect. This in itself should give us the impetus to plan ahead, to come up with the most effective, humane, and inclusive policies, and to ensure that the fundamental rights of all stakeholders involved are respected. 

Debating a better online future for all today also means that we need to take social justice online in the most judicious, efficient, and effective ways.”

6. Cyrus Engerer (PL)

On Trump’s Twitter ban:

“Posting on Twitter or any other social media is not a right in itself. When subscribing to the platform, one agrees to the rules and regulations. In President Trump’s case, in pure dictatorial form, he opted to shy away from press conferences where journalists could ask questions and simply publish his message aimed at deceiving his followers with a number of lies, while also inciting hated and violence against individuals, minorities and other organisations that challenged him.

Trump’s ban on some social media platforms came too late in the day. Did they have to wait for Trump’s thugs to storm the Capitol and for blood to be shed? Was it too comfortable being paid millions of dollars by Trump for his online campaigns?”

On the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act:

“Yes, we must ensure and safeguard democracy. It’s not up to sisal media platforms to do so. They should operate within a robust regulatory framework. While ensuring no artistic censorship and the right for everyone to voice opinions freely in society, illegalities such as hate speech should not be tolerated.”

How, if it all, do you think Big Tech should be regulated?

ewropej official logoThis article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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Tim is interested in the rapid evolution of human society brought about by technological advances. He’s passionate about justice, human rights and cutting-edge political debates. You can follow him on Twitter at @timdiacono or reach out to him at [email protected]

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