German Chancellor Angela Merkel considers US President Donald Trump’s eviction from Twitter by the company “problematic”, her spokesman said.
Twitter permanently suspended Trump from the microblogging platform on Friday, citing a “risk of further incitement of violence” in the wake of the storming of the US Capitol by supporters of the outgoing president.
Asked about Twitter’s decision, Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the operators of social media platforms “bear great responsibility for political communication not being poisoned by hatred, by lies and by incitement to violence”.
He said it is right not to “stand back” when such content is posted, for example by flagging it.
But Seibert also said that the freedom of opinion is a fundamental right of “elementary significance”.
“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators — not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” he told reporters in Berlin.
“Seen from this angle, the Chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the US president have now been permanently blocked.”
Facebook on Thursday suspended Trump’s account through to January 20, the day of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, and possibly indefinitely.
Merkel herself does not have a Twitter account, although Seibert does and many German government ministers do.
The Chancellor’s intervention comes after Parler – the alternative social network favoured by the far-right – was taken offline, after Amazon pulled its support for the so-called ‘free speech’ app.
The platform had relied on the tech giant’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing services. It found huge popularity among supporters of Donald Trump, and other fringe elements of the far-right who had been kicked off Twitter or Facebook because of rule breaches.
Amazon took action after finding dozens of posts on the service which it said encouraged or incited violence, just days after a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol.
Amazon told Parler that it had witnessed a “steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms” – adding that it did not believe the app’s administrators had an “effective process” to tackle the problem.
It provided examples – including posts which called for the killing of Democrats, Muslims, Black Lives Matter leaders and journalists.
Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores last week, claiming it failed to comply with content-moderation requirements.
But the platform had still been accessible via the web – although visitors over the weekend complained that they were unable to create new accounts over the weekend.
Speaking to Fox News on Sunday, Parler’s chief executive John Matze said that “every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too.
“We’re going to try our best to get back online as quickly as possible, but we’re having a lot of trouble because every vendor we talk to says they won’t work with us because if Apple doesn’t approve and Google doesn’t approve, they won’t,” he added.