MOSCOW – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny criticized Twitter’s decision to ban President Donald Trump from its platform as an “unacceptable act of censorship”, arguing that the Kremlin opened the door to demand social media companies permanently suspend Russian opposition figures.
“In my opinion, the decision to ban Trump was based on emotions and political preferences,” said Navalny wrote in a long Twitter thread on Saturday night. “Don’t tell me he was banned for violating the Twitter rules. I’ve received death threats every day here for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone (not that I ask about them).”
A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that the German head of state saw the decision by Twitter – followed by other social media companies – as “problematic”.
Merkel’s spokesman explained that the Chancellor regards freedom of expression as a fundamental right that can only be restricted by legal means and not by decisions made by executives of social media companies. However, she believes that social media companies have a significant responsibility to prevent the further erosion of civic dialogue.
Twitter announced it permanently banned Trump from its platform on Friday in response to a series of tweets the company labeled as glorified and incited violence. The move came days after a pro-Trump mob, encouraged by the president’s rhetoric both online and offline, stormed the U.S. capital to halt Joe Biden’s certification as president-elect.
Twitter’s decision to ban Trump was welcomed by its critics as right and overdue, but it also raises sharp questions about the role of social media companies in facilitating and moderating political discourse.
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern on the implications of banning a president from an “indispensable” platform, but even some of the most ardent free speech advocates on the internet struggled to oppose Trump’s bans.
“A platform shouldn’t apply one set of rules to most of its users and then apply a more permissive set of rules to politicians and world leaders who are already immensely powerful,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supports privacy and free speech online. said Thursday in one Explanation.
For his part, Navalny is not a fan of Trump and celebrated the 2020 presidential election as a truly competitive race that was run fairly and transparently. He has been the harshest critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin for a decade. He is currently in Germany, recovering from an attack in Siberia last year with a deadly nerve agent.
But for Russian opposition figures like Navalny, the dangers of social media bans are immediately obvious.
“This precedent is being exploited by enemies of freedom of expression around the world. Also in Russia. Whenever they have to silence someone, they will say, “This is just common practice, even Trump has been blocked on Twitter,” wrote Navalny in a rare series of English-language tweets.
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He added, “If you replace” Trump “with” Navalny “in today’s discussion, you will get an 80 percent accurate answer from the Kremlin as to why my name cannot be featured on Russian television and why I cannot vote. “
This feeling was largely shared by other Russian opposition figures over the weekend.
But not everyone agrees with Navalny’s view. Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior Carnegie Moscow Center think tank who specializes in Russian domestic affairs, says Navalny’s warnings are exaggerated. The entire situation surrounding Trump’s final days in power is a gift to the Kremlin as it is easy to point out American hypocrisy.
“As an opposition leader, Navalny is just uncomfortable speaking for a ban, not to mention censorship, even for controversial personalities,” says Kolesnikov. “Maybe it’s not his views that motivate these comments, but his situation. But he couldn’t avoid talking about such a heated discussion that is dividing liberals in Russia.”