The greatest threat to free speech is the EU
Unlike in the US, compulsory 'moderation' of social media is already written in law
Elon Musk’s recent release of the so-called Twitter Files, via journalist Matt Taibbi, is profoundly concerning. The correspondence — as well as various leaks, FOIA requests and ongoing lawsuits has begun to shed light on the level of collusion between the US administration, not to mention its countless three-letter federal agencies, and social media companies. As many suspected, the so-called “war on disinformation” has little to do with protecting the public from false, misleading or dangerous content, but is really about censoring and suppressing dissenting voices, even at the cost of exposing the public to state-sanctioned disinformation.
Musk has thrown a spanner in the works of this almost symbiotic relationship between political authorities and Big Tech companies, and his decision to loosen the platform’s guidelines has led to calls in the US for legislation allowing the government to regulate social media content. But fear remains that such a tool would simply be used to suppress free speech. Given the authorities’ track record, that’s not an unreasonable assumption.
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However, getting such a law passed in Congress is likely to prove very difficult, given the constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression in the US (which is precisely why authorities resorted to backchanneling). A much more serious threat to Musk is the one being waged against him on the other side of the Atlantic, where governments have increased leeway when it comes to limiting free speech. The response of European Union commissioner Thierry Breton to Musk’s first post-takeover tweet — “the bird is freed” — was telling: “In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules”.
Indeed, on Wednesday the EU threatened to ban Twitter from the continent if Musk doesn’t adhere to their strict content moderation guidelines, which are detailed in the European Commission’s Digital Services Act (DSA) that came into force last month. These guidelines include surrendering the platform to “independent audits” conducted by “independent” third parties, as well as the implementation of “mechanisms to adapt swiftly and efficiently in reaction to crises affecting public security or public health”. Breton once again took to social media to clarify what this means: the site must “reinforce content moderation” and “aggressively” root out disinformation, or else.
The DSA has been accused of weakening free speech laws beyond breaking point. As Jacob Mchangama wrote in Foreign Policy:
An appeal signed by several human rights and freedom of expression organisations echoes such concerns, noting that the DSA “is an overly broad empowerment of the European Commission to unilaterally declare an EU-wide state of emergency. It would enable far-reaching restrictions of freedom of expression and of the free access to and dissemination of information in the Union”.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the greatest threat to free speech today comes from the EU: the bloc’s entire institutional edifice, after all, is geared towards constraining democracy. The lesson here is that while the regulation of online speech cannot be left to private megaplatforms, it can’t be left to political and technocratic elites either. It has to be subject to a broad democratic debate involving all stakeholders — including users. Precisely the kind of open debate that Big Tech and governments have been trying to stifle for years.
There are some of us who are certainly not surprised by the continued outrageous movement against democracy by the that odious entity, the EU.
I would genuinely like to hear a response from a Remainer.
Is this the same EU which you are advocating should take back control over UK policies.
IMO, the remainers are either people who have jobs directly related to the EU, or they see the EU as a warm, cuddly, safe place to be – away from the infantile British politicians. The EU is relatively faceless and if these unknown-ish politicians are making key decisions for hundreds of millions of people – then it must be OK mustn’t it???
I voted remain. I was very relieved during the covid debacle that we had left the EU and therefore had greater freedom to decide on regulations outside of it. I’m not sure that we should be gloating though, while our government is ‘holding back’ negotiations with the RMT and what about the new legislation to further restrict the power of the unions. How can we experience the benefits of brexit (better wages, more investment in public services; ha ha and greater freedoms to trade internationally), if we’re having our wings clipped by our own government?
Brexit is not just for Christmas. Vote Reform Party whenever you can. Or Nigel.
I voted remain. I was very relieved during the covid debacle that we had left the EU and therefore had greater freedom to decide on regulations outside of it
You, me, and the wife!
I voted remain. I think my argument would have been along the lines of a) we can trust them to limit the use of their powers to blatant misinformation about really sensitive topics (racism, child abuse) b) you’ve probably misunderstood the law and it is not as bad as you make out. But having lived through the covid era (‘lived’ along with 99.9% of those infected from this slightly-nastier-disease-than-bad-flu) I am now defeated in my argument and would vote leave if asked.
I thank you for that, when asked why I voted to leave the EU, I had only the gut feeling about what I had seen and heard, I then deduced that the EU was fast becoming an authoritarian organisation way above the station of the Common Market. Being suspicious even of my own Gov,t I erred on the side of caution. A state of mind is difficult to explain and therefore my inability to do so may have led others to think their wanting to stay in the EU was superior to my out. Only time will tell who is the more correct in their thinking. Maybe your Remainer friends will understand both you and I eventually. Thanks again.
I don’t think that the EU even sees itself as democratic. There is an elected parliament but key decision makers are not elected.
It is hardly surprising that Europe has NOT the slightest inkling about Democracy or indeed Freedom of Speech. They have NEVER had even an iota of it until very, very recently.
Before that the last Democratic European experiment was snuffed out over 2,000 years ago by the Homicidal Macedonian Pygmy (sometimes referred to as Alexander the Great) and his equally murderous father Philip of Macedon.
The one exception to this dreary tale was off course England, and then only for a brief period in the 17th century.
Do you mean the Glorious Revolution? William of Orqange, because it seems Janes II and Charles were not it – William? I cannot remember any history anymore.
The Republic or “Good Old Cause” first, followed by William III (Orange)..
“We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.”
Jean Claude-Juncker, 1999
Juncker was the ultimate exponent of the techniques of this odious oligarchy. Thank goodness he’s disappeared to supervise his wine cellar.
The EU are what were called ‘the crowned heads of Europe’ back in the day.
I imagine they think of themselves, without irony, as “the Great and the Good” !
Nah the greatest threat to free speech in the U.K. is the liberal left by a country mile. They don’t need any help from the EU in their efforts to redefine the truth and what can be stated in public.
A clinical evisceration of the modus operandi of the EU, one of the best articles i’ve read by Thomas.
It therefore goes without saying that a post-Brexit Britain has a better chance of getting our legislation around free speech on social media platforms and elsewhere closer to an acceptable balance. To do so, we must all understand that it will be a balancing act, that we may not get it right first time until the consequences are felt, be prepared to act to make adjustments to legislation in the light of any curtailments to free speech which might affect the democratic process and finally, to use our right to free speech wisely. That can begin by using public debate responsibly and without the shrillness we’ve seen over the past decade or so. Unherd can, and should, act as a beacon in that respect, but itself must ensure it’s editorial policy doesn’t prevent legitimate and well-presented comments from falling foul of its algorithms and/or moderation.
A tall order, but far from impossible, whereas the possibilities for citizens of the EU will become ever-increasingly at risk.
I agree! Thomas sees so many awkwards truths about the EU and our Blob. I only wish he would re assess his ongoing sympathy towards the Big State and denial of its concomitant suffocation of the engines of wealth creation! Also Thomas – turn your eye toward law and justice. The Equality mania & EU legal codes have utterly warped natural justice here. Victim groups now have separate – higher – legal rights. So the streets around abortion clinics are swept clear of protestors (ok), but Eco fanatics can sweep our highways clear of free movement/cars or chuck statutes and win high fives from dumb woke coppers and mad leftie judges (hello Ziegler) . BLM mass ‘bbc peaceful’ violent protests can whack police horses & the Feds and evade the covid restrictions with impunity; horribly white anti lockers protesters are battered and carted off to jug. Did human rights protect us from arbirary tyranny and imprisonment for two years,?? Did it Hell!! It has by contrast facilitated the cowards of cancel culture and soviet style censorship. Our law has been utterly corrupted by EU judicial overreach – ask the Good Judge Sumption. The greatest of many arguments for Brexit should be the restoration of our common law – the magical thread connecting us to our wayward ancestors and the guarantor of a now lost tradition of justice free speech and liberty.
Here is something I posted as a BTL comment on Allister Heath’s very good column in today’s Telegraph; verbatim:
‘I think it has become important to recognise that all these lunatic changes which the western Political Class has imposed on nearly all the genuine democracies are not the result simply of stupidity, incompetence and lethargic bureaucracy. Also they are animated by a positively evil impulse: the desire to be part of an upper crust who have live on ultra-pampered terms (like Harry and Meghan) while most ordinary people become poor, cold, hungry, with little freedom of movement and none of expression (so they can’t rebel).
Boris Johnson’s equally wide-boy father Stanley lately let a very big moggie out of the bag. He spoke of ‘the national plan’ for the United Kingdom: a plan which even Parliament itself has not heard of, let alone any democrat debated, and which is clearly a fruit of the Davos deliberations by the genuinely wicked World Economic Forum (whose members include all our present senior Cabinet ministers).
In the Netherlands things have gone a stage further. THEIR demented government is getting rid of the farms in order to build over them and make houses for migrants from abroad. In the USA Bill Gates is buying up all the farmland – to raise pigs, chickens, vegetables, fruit? NO: he wants us to eat bugs henceforth. (How tasty and nourishing they are I do not know. And would there really be enough bugs to go round, supplying all food needs?)
Klaus Schwab, who looks like a caricature of a Bond villain, lately openly declared the Davos programme: ‘In ze future ordinary people vill have nothing and be happy’.
Well, we are on the way to having nothing, but I don’t see the happiness.’
And when I looked just three hours later, it had been removed.
Passing laws against free speech is not the only way of silencing dissent.
The EU is a sanctimonious, authoritarian, busy body that has no business even existing. It is run by a group of unelected leaders accountable to no one. That it threatens to squash free speech should be a surprise to no one.
I would not happen in a democracy 🙂
(Although sadly the recent reaction to the pandemic proved it can happen in a democracy)
Sadly the EU is not a democracy – there’s a fig leaf of Euro MPs with no powers and all the real power is in unelected bodies. We already know what their version of the truth is & I profoundly disagree with much of it.
Honest question. What if Musk says screw you to the EU? I know the EU is contemplating some outrageous fines if social media companies ignore its proposed rules, but is Musk really required to pay these fines? He’s not a citizen of the EU. The company is not based in the EU. Could he not simply move out all of its operations there?
The issue would be the EU would retaliate by blocking Twitter through-out the EU (you see the power they unilaterally yield)…
An iron curtain has descended over Europe….AGAIN.
A sort of Great Firewall of Europe? Sounds familiar.
Virtual networks would make any ban unworkable?
Europe is very close to the event horizon surrounding the black hole of political censorship. If the EU bureaucrats aren’t forced to change course, silence like that from behind the old Iron Curtain will descend again. (Am I still allowed to say this?)
A well-written article on a serious issue. Predictably, the usual suspects use it as another EU bashing exercise. Agreed – what is being addressed here deals with the EU, but the overall problem/trend is by no means confined to that entity.
” The response of European Union commissioner Thierry Breton to Musk’s first post-takeover tweet — “the bird is freed” — was telling: “In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules”
Now imagine that with ‘Putin’s’ response and ‘our Russian rules’. Not so different.
The EU is, of course, Germany’s Fourth Reich…
Eventually we will all have to choose between free speech and anonymity online – because no-one can deny the toxic effect that the Internet free-for-all has had – and continues to have – on children.
Ending anonymity online effectively ends free speech. Parents, do your job.
Just posted a comment. Ironically, it’s being queued for approval. lol
LOL, such a lopsided and nakedly-partisan article.
Not even an attempt at balance. All peanut galleries sated.
I grew up in N Ireland.
I’m a former City lawyer, who never received as much a parking ticket.
Yet, growing up, our telephone line was regularly monitored by the British army. You could hear the chattering on the old analogue lines. Occasionally, voices would break in and admonish us for expressing certain opinions.
You got used to being listened to, and admonished, all the time.
Sinn Féin was openly censored for years. It was felt that the expression of certain views, repugnant to the British establishment, must openly be censored, so as not to give the “oxygen of publicity” to viewpoints they politically disagreed with.
And, separate to our little historic local difficulties in NI, the D-Notice regime is a wider problem, where under Britain exercises a discreet form of Chinese style censorship all the time, throughout the UK.
Have you never even heard of D Notices?
And let’s not even get started on the UK’s Online Safety Bill lol:
People assume that I, as an Irish Republican, should have been “annoyed” at the blatant British censorship I grew up under.
Not in the least. I can see exactly why, from a British perspective, such censorship suited their interests. The British were no worse or no better than anyone else.
In fact, growing up under censorship matures you.
You learn to avoid binary positions.
You learn to avoid being like cossetted naïve middle-class people in peaceful societies. They believe pretty much everything, on principle. Dumb.
And to avoid being like working class conspiracy theorists who disbelieve everything, on principle. Equally dumb.
Be positive, but never gullible – sometimes, governments lie.
Be sceptical, but never cynical – sometimes, govts tell the truth.
But please folks, do not lecture others about censorship.
There is a wider, rational discussion on the limits of free speech.
How we balance the rights to free speech with safeguards to individuals and the public by giving free rein to malicious falsehoods and / or crazed conspiracy theories.
But this little screed is far from being a rational and fair-minded discussion.
No, I don’t believe there’s “a wider, rational discussion on the limits of free speech.” Speech is free or it is not. There are always bossy types around eager to put limits on it in order to control opinions they don’t like; Lately it’s the Left, but in the past it’s been the Right. Disapproved opinions never go away, so limiting speech about them always escalates. (See Twitter pre-Musk.)
Greater risk than the CCP or Putin? Or the current Iranian leadership? Or Kim Jong-Un?
Fine to criticise some aspects of how EU handling certain media related issues. To claim, in the headline, this is greatest threat to Free Speech is utter codswallop.
I disagree. The greater threat really does come from those who profess to champion the Western idea of free speech, rather than those whose idea of free speech is known to be corrupted and have no compunction in making that clear.
“ And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
Twitter, a single company, has more influence over free speech on the Internet in the west than any national government. Have you even been on the wider Internet since 2012?
Its unclear what you mean by that – or rather that’s the whole point of the article and current debate
Its fair to say that the social media companies including Twitter have influence over free speech on their platforms & the US constitution prevents the government from silencing ‘free speech’.
The debate is should the government have more control over free speech – the traditional argument was free, independent companies can make their own rules..
But now we see a hegemony of left wing suppression of free speech by those companies the argument fails.
Unfortunately its the very same lefties that want to take control of fee speech now it appears one of the Social Media companies might just not be so leftie after all.
So what’s your point – are you in favour of state control of what media companies publish or not?
Your mistake is assuming that there is a difference between the state and media companies. They are the same entity.
Or rather Twitter was doing what the government wanted but was unable to do so. Not sure why you got downvoted. You weren’t saying anything particularly controversial.
How many Twitter bots do you think the FSB runs? Or the MSS from China? Thousands and thousands. Same with other social media. I daresay you are pinged loads as you’ll probably trigger their algorhythm for confirmatory bias. I suspect I get some too.
Yes what should and should not be permissible on Twitter one can debate – I’ll tend to if it’s not incitement to violence then let it be – but the real threat is how it’s used by far more malign parties.
Indeed, and he also conveniently ignores the many excesses of ‘freedom’ that lie at the heart of American dysfunction.
As I proud free American, Dominic A, I am free to tell you to go, shall we say, treat yourself in an inappropriate way…
An excess of freedom is when my fist fails to stop before your nose.
Matt, Terry, thank you for so aptly demonstrating the excesses of freedom: pride in ignorance, indulgence of violence, and refusal of criticism.
Would you please enumerate these?
I’ll try – briefly. I’ll start by saying i actually love America, have spent many years living there – across 1970s to 2010s. Americans are encouraged to think, feel, do be whatever they want to be – this results in positives from Rock and Roll, to business, science, literature innovations, and personal happiness…….and also social entitlement, rampant violence, gun culture, cults divorce, drugs, obesity, etc. Of course I am not saying other countries are free from these things, or don’t have other faults all of their own.
Just don’t think you understand what you’re reading… Typical EU:good blindspot
“Greater risk than the CCP or Putin? Or the current Iranian leadership? Or Kim Jong-Un?”
The countries governed by those people are not free and consequently do not have free speech, but that is not the point: the point is that we in the West are supposed to have free speech, and it foreign despots do not have any power to threaten it. Our own governments do, however, and that is where the problem is. So the headline is quite correct.
I think the EU and the Left generally definitely IS the greatest current threat to free speech, in the sense that it’s already dead in China and Putin’s Russia, whereas the EU’s creeping (actually more like galloping) censorship is the force actively undermining it out here in the free world.
Censorship of social media is necessary for a healthy and functioning society. Conspiracy theories and hate speech are a threat to law and order as we saw on January 6th.
What I saw on January 6th was a bunch of grannies wandering around taking selfies. Not much of an ‘insurrection’ really.
It was the most buffoonish coup attempt in history. If social media companies were more responsible in tackling the spread of misinformation such as Q anon and the election deniers Jan 6th would not of happened.
You sound like you work for the ACLU.
What have I said that is factually incorrect?
It was not a coup attempt and to characterise it as such is factually incorrect
Trump instructed his supporters to stop the certification of the election result by “showing strength”. What do you think they were there to do?
The same thing Martin Luther King did with the million man march. You know, that shit you’re normally happy to see drip fed to moronic boomers. Turn up with enough people with enough self-righteousness and enact change! ™. Make our voices heard! Yes We Can! All that BS. The difference is the stupid retrogrades didn’t realise it’s not FOR them. It’s only supposed to work for people on the right side of history and their client groups. “We shall persevere!”
But you could, just, tell nothing but the truth and still work for the ACLU.
Maybe it would not have happened either.
Censorship is a symptom of authoritarian dictatorship, not a healthy and functioning society.
Q anon is what you get with not enough censorship. Q kookery and election denial should of been snuffed out at a much earlier stage.
Agree Q anon is a problem. Only old people that haven’t spent enough time on the Internet don’t understand this:
QAnon High Priest Was Just Trolling Away as a Citigroup Tech Executive
Hats off to Frederick Brennan and the reporters that went after it. Jason gelinas is typical example of too much money and a few screws loose, links to Citigroup, he’s now been sacked but it went on for ages before anyone did anything, then only cos a few people took it upon themselves to investigate. Question I’m not sure of the answer to though is where do you draw the line with stuff, if at all. It is spawning weird ideas in strange corners of the Internet though, there’s no denying that.
Read this only this week:
Jan 6th resembled a frat party gone awry.
These are just excuses for criminality.
Surely it was just a peaceful protest?
A peaceful protest does not entail smashing windows, assaulting police officers and invading the centre of the American government to stop the certification of an election result. I am frankly shocked that the US government and police have been so lenient on the rioters.
January 6th happened because of the government’s weak response to the BLM riots during a period of stringent lockdown measures. By being so lenient to one group they implied that all forms of protest were acceptable. This is extremely concerning because it shows that law and justice are not being equally applied.
Smashing windows at Walmart is different than smashing windows at the Capitol obviously.
Are you being facetious? With you I can’t tell.
But there were lots of peaceful protests in US cities well before the election that involved assault (even killings) smashing of property and looting. But they WERE peaceful??
Like the ones that took place the summer of ‘20 that were excused by The Beast.
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