Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister has called on the U.S. to protect “every citizen” from Big Tech censorship on social media, as his own country prepares new laws enforcing free speech standards online.
Polish lawmaker Sebastian Kaleta said it was “disturbing” that “Christian or patriotic content” was increasingly being branded as “hate speech” by the Big Tech firms which dominate social media, and that the public discourse should not be controlled by “anonymous moderators”.
Mr Kaleta explained that while other European countries, such as Emmanuel Macron’s France and Angela Merkel’s Germany, are already regulating Big Tech in a way that allows them to “force social media to delete some content”, Poland is approaching the online public square from the opposite direction, with legislation “to prevent legal content from being censored”.
The minister told American broadcaster Glenn Beck that “Many publishers, many politicians right now are interested in our concept, because we saw that freedom of speech is in danger and we want to protect it,” referencing the mass banning of former U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration and Poland’s own dark history of censorship under Communism.
While many conservatives say they accept the right of tech giants to ban, shadowban, and restrict or remove the content of social media users, if reluctantly, because they are “private companies”, Mr Kaleta compared them to, among other things, the telephone networks.
These also started out as private enterprises, he argued in his podcast interview, but evolved into regulated public utilities with democratically accountable oversight as their use became ubiquitous — and it would not be considered acceptable to ban people from using telephones for expressing the “wrong” opinions while using them.
“There are many dangers in Big Tech companies which we should face,” he said, expressing concern at the creation of “monopolies” from which “every citizen must be protected; the rights of every one of us should be protected… to preserve democracy itself.”
Mr Kaleta had previously elaborated on these points in an article for Newsweek, recalling how “Poland suffered under Soviet-imposed Communism for 45 years and endured decades of censorship” and was therefore “particularly sensitive to any attempts to curtail freedom of speech.”
“We do not seek the power to remove any content from social media; rather, we simply want to ensure that lawful content is not removed,” he had emphasised, much as he did when debating the issue on the podcast.
“In Poland, we have watched with alarm as a consortium of ever more powerful, monopolistic Big Tech companies have done what was once unthinkable: de-platforming a sitting U.S. president,” Kaleta wrote, insisting that the conventional “conservatarian” arguments against regulation were now outmoded.
“Sadly, for years we have all been told that private companies are entitled to act as they please. ‘If you don’t like our social network, just build your own,’ goes the well-worn quip. But the rapid exclusion of Parler has finished off this argument once and for all,” he lamented.
“With Amazon refusing to host Parler, and Apple and Google removing the app from their app stores, Big Tech killed the competition before it could even meaningfully take off,” he pointed out.
For the Polish statesman, “Guaranteeing citizens recourse against Big Tech arbitrariness is a first step in the direction of orienting the internet toward the public good,” and that the “arbitrary exclusion of voices, and even companies, from the internet makes it clearer than ever that social media companies are not just platforms, but publishers—and not merely publishers either, but monopoly gatekeepers for the rapid transmission of information to the public at large.”
“Two thousand years ago, the Roman comedian Juvenal asked, ‘Who will watch the watchers?’ In the case of Big Tech, I believe that the answer lies with the people,” he said, echoing similar arguments advanced by James Pinkerton on Breitbart News.
Poland’s own draft law on social media censorship will see social media users given a right to appeal bans and content removal to tech firms, with the possibility of further appeals to a new Free Speech Board appointed by the Polish legislature.
This Free Speech Board will be empowered to order the restoration of accounts and posts if it finds they were punished for lawful speech, and to levy fines of up to 50 million złoty — roughly £9.8 million, or $13.4 million — on firms which do not comply with its rulings.
The Hungarian government, which aligns closely with the Polish government, has also vowed to take action against the shadowbanning of “Christian, conservative, [and] right-wing voices” online.