-OpEd-

PARIS — Do we have the right to silence a man for taking extreme positions, particularly if we are a private company? And what if the individual in question is the democratically elected head of state? These philosophical questions have suddenly become urgent with Twitter's decision to ban the account of the American president, Donald Trump, after the whole world watched in dismay as his supporters invaded the Capitol.

For a long time, the platforms claimed to be mere "pipes" transporting information rather than generating it. This relieves them, unlike other forms of mass media, of responsibility for the content produced. They have given weak consent to establish general terms of use which must be signed before anyone registers on their sites.

By suspending the president's accounts on Jan. 8, Twitter, and later Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitch all were admitting for the first time their need to set limits. Anyone who respects the democratic process should be happy to see a supremacist encounter obstacles, even if it has arrived late.

A platform is still a private space even if it addresses the whole world.

However, philosophy and economics don't necessarily go well together. A company should not have to decide by itself whether to cut off the president of the new world superpower. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who is seeking to impose a tax on the revenues of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), insisted on the fact that regulation must be established "by the sovereign people, by the States, and by justice." Angela Merkel judged the social media shutdowns as "problematic."

Who should be the judge? What would happen if Twitter decided to exclude a particular NGO or celebrity because their discourse is displeasing? A platform is still a private space even if it addresses the whole world. One must build a legal framework with extremely reactive alert systems because the time frame for the law is not the same as the time frame or tech platforms.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has drafted two regulations on digital markets and services with rights and obligations that can lead to the closure of platforms if they do not police well enough. France, at least, is working on the creation of a digital tribunal of sorts. But this subject goes far beyond that, with the U.S.-based GAFA behemoths having grown so powerful that they are influencing the behavior of citizens around the world. Often this goes in the right direction, for example, when they promote efficient legitimate commerce or the spread of culture.

But the internet has also emboldened the extremists who wore buffalo costumes and flew Confederate flags in Washington, just like it allows criminals to sell counterfeit goods online. Ever more, the need for law enforcement in the digital space is no longer in doubt.


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