The discussion about censorship in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube received new impetus through the blocking of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump spoke of this as violating the human right to „freedom of speech“.
Is this really the case? Three innocuous voices on the matter:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: „The fundamental right to freedom of speech is of elementary importance.“
Whistleblower Edward Snowdon writes on Twitter that this decision against Trump – namely the blocking of his access – sets a precedent that could lead to similar steps in the future.
Alexei Navalny, that brave man from Russia, also argues along these lines, stating that this approach could be exploited by enemies of free speech.
The question, therefore, boiled down to the core of the problem, is: should men like Zuckerberg of Facebook or Dorsey of Twitter be granted absolute power to intervene in democratic opinion-forming processes in many countries and thereby control them? No, absolutely not! Private corporations must not arrogate judicial power to themselves.
All this is fatally reminiscent of Kafka’s „trial“ in the digital age: „Someone must have slandered Donald T., because without doing anything bad, one fine day he was banned for life from Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.“
In the Trump case, the democratic institutions in the US have to decide:
Donald Trump was acquitted of the charge of „inciting a riot“ on 13 February 2021 in the second impeachment trial.
However, a court indictment and a possible conviction in this case are also possible.
This very complex issue can certainly be discussed controversially. However, such a discussion must also be allowed in the social media. I would like to make a small contribution to this with the answers to five questions I posed.
1. Are the social media only exercising their „domiciliary rights“ by deleting and blocking posts and users?
Facebook and Twitter argue that they are only exercising this right.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court has already recognised in a case in North Carolina that the generally accessible social media constitute a public space(!) that may not be restricted by law.
A small example for a better understanding this excellent U.S. legal decision: If I am the only baker in an inaccessible valley, I am not allowed to choose my customers. I have to serve them all!
The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Iranian revolutionary guards as well as the former U.S. President Donald Trump, if they visit my bakery.
2. Can only states exercise censorship?
The right to free expression of opinion has been suspiciously observed by the state authorities, but also by the individual religious communities, since time immemorial.
The Catholic Church installed an elaborate ecclesiastical hierarchy and until the Reformation the Bible was not translated into the respective national language, only to prevent the free religious expression of opinion by the faithful. This is because thinking citizens have the unpleasant quality for the rulers of questioning the state and religious system of rule.
Censorship therefore always pursues only one goal, to suppress any free expression of opinion by citizens. Democratic states, for their part, have renounced all state censorship, but have handed over social media censorship to private companies.
And the social media in the USA such as Facebook, Twitter and Co. exercise this right to censor with great enthusiasm. With what democratic justification, in fact, for Europe? This privilege was granted to them in 1996 with the „Cross Section 230“ of the „Communications Decency Act (CDA)“ only for the legal area of the USA, which, according to American legal understanding, includes the entire world. More on this later!
Any censorship by the state is forbidden in western democracies. Nevertheless, such censorship can be observed: in print media as well as in electronic media.
In the print and electronic media, it can then be a top-down selection of articles and editors by the media owners. „Intelligent“ editors then already know which topics may be selected and how the contributions are to be formulated.
3. Do social media protect human rights?
The difficulty already begins with the fact that it is not even clear whether there are only universal human rights as each of us or many different human rights according to the cultural and religious background.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, for example, says that human rights are an inherent law with a moral claim and validity for all people.
Critics of this universal claim, on the other hand, argue that THE human rights – a legacy of the Enlightenment – are merely to be understood as a specific expression of an individualistic (nihilistic) way of life, through which the economic, cultural and political interests of the West are to be asserted and foreign markets conquered.
3a. Contradictions between THE Human Rights and the Word of God
Article 18 of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.“
However, this important article in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (especially the human right to change one’s faith or even to become an atheist) clearly contradicts the Word of God in the Quran, which is the absolute guide for about 1.2 billion people around the world.
The consequence a Muslim must therefore reckon with if he falls away from the true faith is clearly laid down in the 4th Sura, verse 89, of the Koran: „But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and do not take any of them as allies or helpers“
The word of God in this case is against human rights. No question what a believing Muslim has to value more highly.
3b. Where is the line between the human right to freedom of expression and false news („fake news“)?
As late as the 16th century, the assertion that the earth is a sphere was considered a false report and punishable by death at the „stake“.
How difficult it is even today to distinguish the human right to freedom of expression from the spreading of false news can be shown by the example about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2-virus:
The Wuhan Live Animal Food Market or the Wuhan Institute of Virology? That is the question!
It was about six years ago that at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, a high-security laboratory with four levels of security, where the 2019 Corona virus had its possible origin, the viruses from bats were studied but did not really grow. They spread more than sluggishly. But they wanted to study the spread of corona viruses to be better prepared against SARS, among other things.
So they combined two viruses, a Corona virus adapted to mice and capable of replication as a backbone, and planted the sequence, the spikes (i.e. the spikes of the crown of the Corona virus), there. This artificial virus was then studied, it grew in mice and also in human cells.
At some point, this US/Swiss collaborative project, production of virus chimeras, was banned. The danger of a bioweapon for terrorists simply seemed too great.
Taken from: Karin Mölling, Viruses, Superpower of Life, 2020. Prof. Dr. Karin Mölling was, among other things, Professor and Director of the Institute for Medical Virology at the University of Zurich from 1993.
Prof. Mölling also writes in her book (page 83) that the SARS virus has already escaped three times from a Chinese high-security laboratory.
Documentation of this was published in recognised medical journals in 2015. However, a new reference in this documentation rules out the involvement of this synthetic virus for the current pandemic.
As early as February 2020, however, 27 recognised scientists – including the well-known German virologist Christian Drosten – stated in the scientific journal „The Lancet“ that the Covid 19 virus does not have an artificial origin. However, no proof was provided that a laboratory accident could be ruled out. This, however, relegated all other claims to the realm of conspiracy theories.
This does not mean, however, that no further virus research has been carried out in the last few years since 2015. The fact is that the Virological Institute in Wuhan has been working on SARS virus mutations that should promote their proliferation (i.e. increase the number of replicates). And this is precisely what characterises the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its mutations.
This assumption is in fact also supported by a very illuminating example from Alsace, – next to Ischgl/Austria and Bergamo/Italy – the third European Covid-19 pandemic centre during the first wave at the beginning of 2020.
Dr Schmitt led a study at Colmar Hospital that analysed 2,456 lung examinations between November 2019 and April 2020. According to the study, there was reportedly one Corona case as early as 16 November 2019. The individual cases were cross-checked by experienced radiologists. The study came about because there was an increase in atypical flu cases lasting longer than two to three weeks for instance such as fever, cough, etc.. However, the virus spread very slowly until the end of February 2020. There was nothing to indicate a pandemic at that time. This was because the nimble SARS-CoV-2 virus had not yet fully arrived in Europe.
Building on the above empirically verified facts, the following free expression of opinion can be formulated in this regard: The virus laboratory and not the live animal food market of Wuhan, only a few hundred metres away, as disseminated by the Chinese authorities and dutifully apported by the WHO, must therefore be regarded as the starting point of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
4. Why was social media allowed to exercise global censorship in the first place?
Cross Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects internet companies such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other electronic networks in the US from being held liable for statements made by their users on their platforms.
Not only the Washington Post doubts whether this is even possible. But these companies need not fear such lawsuits „if they make a good-faith effort to censor obscene, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable material.“
Nonetheless, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have enacted policies that very well cut deeply into the right of any free expression.
On Facebook, for example, pictures of bare-breasted beauties are deleted. It does not matter whether it is a topless snapshot of a girlfriend on the beach or a painting by a recognised artist. Expressions like „shitstorm“ are also frowned upon.
By means of artificial intelligence (AI) or also by real censors made of flesh and blood – from wherever – posts or graphic representations uploaded to Facebook, for example, are combed through on the basis of predefined word lists – especially those of a political nature -, compared and requested to change the blocked expression without any further justification of the decision made and any right of objection. But yes, one is then allowed to object to it by e-mail. However, such an appeal to the „Salzamt“ (Viennese term for its futility) would be more successful. However, it is not only posts that can be blocked, but also users directly.
5. What is the solution?
Everyone agrees that the decree „Cross Section 230“ needs reform. But not about how to get there.
Former German judge Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem formulated a proposal as early as 1996 that is still up to date: the ban on censorship directed against the state should be extended to Internet companies. It is of course clear to him that certain content on the net such as pornography, paedophilia, the sale of drugs as well as instructions on how to build bombs must be kept off the internet.
But for this, there is already the „dark net“ on the internet, which, however, is largely removed from public control, with Bitcoins as the payment system. Only with one’s own browsers and special passwords can one find access to Internet Hades.
Therefore, there is only one solution that corresponds to our democratic understanding. The state takes over the supervision of the hitherto lawless space on the internet and prohibits any internet censorship of expressions of opinion in speech and writing.
The liability of internet companies would be limited to obvious criminal offences: pornography, paedophilia, drug sales, incitement to terror, anti-Semitism etc..
It would then be up to the state courts in the respective countries to judge reported incriminating contributions according to their respective rules of procedere and laws.
As a democrat, however, one must raise one’s voice in good time, even if many people no longer really appreciate this hard-won right of freedom of expression.
A small example will illustrate this sad state of affairs in our society: two young fish are swimming in a river. They meet an old fish who asks them: „Well, boys, how is the water today? They don’t know the answer. After a while, one young fish asks the other: „What is water, anyway? And what is freedom of expression?
In this contribution I could only touch on what I consider to be the most important aspects of the unrestricted right to freedom of expression.
For me, it was only important to show that this right is higher than all other human rights. And for that we also have to put up with the many hate postings and conspiracy theories in the social network.
You can find more information about the 5 Stars for Austria – but only in German – as well as other useful information about Austrian, social and ecological issues on our website: https://www.5-sterne-oesterreich.at.
Have a nice day
Dr. Kurt Traar
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