The decision by some social media giants to ban US President Donald Trump from their platforms raises a “very big question” in terms of regulation, Matt Hancock has said.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were among the platforms that blocked the president’s accounts from their sites in the aftermath of the storming of the US Capitol by his supporters on Wednesday.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Hancock, the current UK Health Secretary and former culture secretary, said: “I think it raises a very important question, which is it means that the 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.
“It is obviously one for the Culture Secretary – but as a former culture secretary I can tell you that I think it does lead to very interesting questions about the role of social media and the role of the social media companies in the decisions, in the editorial decisions that they take.”
Speaking later to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Hancock said: “The scenes, clearly encouraged by President Trump – the scenes at the Capitol – were terrible – and I was very sad to see that because American democracy is such a proud thing.
“But there’s something else that has changed, which is that social media platforms are making editorial decisions now.
“That’s clear because they’re choosing who should and shouldn’t have a voice on their platform.
“Now I think we should just be straightforward about that. Now that has consequences and they’re very much – as you say – for the Culture Department and not for me.”
Many publishers have long been advocates that platforms should be treated like publishers and regulated in the same way.
Former Financial Times editor Lionel Barber tweeted on Sunday: “Now we can agree that platforms are publishers and that there are some limits to free speech, we need a serious debate about social media’s influence in a modern democracy.
“It’s about ‘network effects’ not just craven politicians seeking power at any price.”
Ofcom will be given the power to fine social media companies millions of pounds if they fail to combat misinformation and other potentially harmful content under the UK Government’s plans for new online safety laws.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg last year backed the idea of governments creating “new rules for the internet” and putting more accountability on companies to moderate content.
His platform was among those to ban Donald Trump from posting over the past few days – it made the decision, along with its subsidiary Instagram, to stop him from posting for at least the next two weeks until the inauguration of his successor Joe Biden but ultimately this ban has been labelled indefinite.
Twitter banned Trump permanently on Saturday citing “the risk of further incitement of violence” and Snapchat has locked his account for an unspecified period.
Twitter pointed to two tweets posted on Friday on the @RealDonald Trump account, the first of which said: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
Shortly afterwards Trump tweeted: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Twitter said these posts were in violation of its glorification of violence policy because of “the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilised by different audiences” following the storming of the US Capitol.
In addition Reddit and Tiktok are among those removing certain content affiliated to Trump.
And right-wing Twitter-alternative Parler, which described itself as a “free speech social network” has gone offline today after Amazon Web Services pulled its services after warning it about “violent content” which “violates our terms”.
The take-down followed tech platforms Google and Apple removing Parler from their app stores as they urged moderation.
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville