Minister says move shows site taking editorial decisions that may justify tighter social media rules
The decision by Twitter to permanently suspend Donald Trump from its platform could justify tightening the regulation for social media companies, a cabinet minister has suggested.
Matt Hancock said the move showed Twitter “taking editorial decisions” and by implication accepting that social media companies are not just platforms.
As a former culture secretary, Hancock said this raised significant questions about how social media companies are regulated, although he accepted this was not part of his current portfolio as health secretary.
Twitter announced on Friday it was permanently suspending the US president’s Twitter account, which had 88 million followers, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence”. In a statement justifying its decision, the company said the move was triggered by two tweets from the president that breached its glorification of violence policy because they were “highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the US Capitol on January 6 2021”.
It argued that a reference by Trump to “American Patriots” in one tweet was being interpreted as evidence he supported those who used violence at the Capitol, and it said his tweet announcing he would not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration was seen by his supporters as confirmation the election was rigged.
Earlier in the week Facebook also banned Trump from posting on its platforms, at least through to Biden’s inauguration.
In an interview on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Hancock said this meant “social media platforms are taking editorial decisions, and that is a very big question because then it raises questions about their editorial judgments and the way that they’re regulated”.
Traditional publishers have long complained that, by arguing that they are platforms and not publishers, social media companies have been able to evade the legal obligations imposed on organisations such as news websites that have far less influence or financial clout.
In a report in 2019 the Commons culture committee said: “Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites.”
The committee said a new category for social media companies should be created “which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher’”. It said this would involve the tech companies assuming “legal liability for content identified as harmful after it has been posted by users”.
In its response last month to the consultation on the online harms white paper, the government said it would introduce new rules requiring social media companies to remove illegal and harmful contents, and give Ofcom the power to impose fines of up to £18m, or 10% of turnover, whichever is higher, for breaches of the regulations.
News – Twitter’s Trump ban could lead to regulation rethink, says Hancock