Several far-right politicians in France have criticised statements from the European Commission and the French government that they would be willing to ban Twitter if it does not comply with EU regulation on societal risks and disinformation.
Jean-Noël Barrot, French Minister for Digital Affairs, stated in an interview with the newspaper Le Figaro on Monday (29 May) that he would be ready to ban Twitter in case of non-compliance with EU legislation.
Barrot’s comments came in reaction to Twitter’s announcement that it will withdraw from the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, a voluntary agreement that gathers all major social media platforms, such as Facebook and TikTok.
While the Code is non-binding, keeping up with its voluntary commitments is a way to anticipate the Digital Services Act (DSA), which next year will start to apply a particularly strict regime for large online platforms like Twitter to manage societal risks like disinformation.
Breaching the DSA can lead to fines of up to 6% of the company’s global annual turnover and a blanket ban from the EU market in cases of repeated non-compliance. Following the decision, Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton warned Twitter: “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
While Barrot acknowledged that Twitter indeed “plays a major role in the public discourse”, the Minister emphasised that the French government’s position aligns with that of the Commissioner.
Twitter set to exit EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, sources say
Twitter told the European Commission it is seriously considering withdrawing from the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, a voluntary agreement that preludes upcoming binding rules, EU officials told EURACTIV.
The announcement of Twitter’s withdrawal from the code would come as …
The unsuccessful far-right candidate for Reconquête in the 2022 French presidential election, Eric Zemmour, expressed his opposition towards Barrot’s position, calling him and Breton “censors” who wanted to “silence any free speech”.
Marion Maréchal, niece of Marine Le Pen and executive vice-president of the Reconquête party, used the same descriptions for Barrot and Breton in a tweet and added that they were “centrist extremists” with “totalitarian reflexes”.
Florian Philippot, leader of the party Les Patriotes and former vice-president of the Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN, now RN) also stated in a tweet that Barrot’s position was “extremely serious” and added that France was no longer a democracy.
Barrot replied to Zemmour’s tweet, saying that “freedom of expression is neither a right to disinformation nor a right to provoke racial or religious hatred”, in a reference to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in January that confirmed the conviction of Zemmour for inciting religious hatred.
Zemmour v France: ECHR ruling points to normalisation of anti-Islam hate speech
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) confirmed that pundit-turned-presidential-candidate Eric Zemmour’s conviction of inciting religious hatred in France was fair and that French courts did not infringe upon his freedom of speech.
Conflicting views on freedom of speech
Billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter in April 2022, coming in as a self-styled defender of freedom of expression. Under Musk’s new leadership, he reinstated several controversial accounts that were previously banned from the platform, including that of former US President Donald Trump in November of the same year.
Another result of Musk’s more libertarian approach is content moderation, for which Twitter has shifted toward community-led Community Notes. Media reports have associated Twitter’s new management with a rise in right-wing extremism on the platform.
Another question raised is if Twitter will exit the EU voluntarily. Since Europe is only a secondary market for the platform, some have speculated that the cost of compliance with EU regulations might exceed the benefits. More cynical observers have even hypothesised that a clash with ‘woke’ Europe might be instrumental in Musk’s political agenda.
Musk’s Twitter on collision course with Europe, with exit possible
By corporate decision, simple negligence or political reasoning, Twitter’s exit from Europe might only be a matter of time if the platform’s new management does not change its current course and commit to regulatory compliance.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Nathalie Weatherald]
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