Germany’s Merkel hits out at Twitter over ‘problematic’ Trump ban

Chancellor Angela Merkel wears a protective face mask when leaving the house after speaking to the media at her annual summer press conference in Berlin on August 28, 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

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LONDON – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blown Twitter’s decision to ban US President Donald Trump.

“The right to freedom of expression is of fundamental importance,” said Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, to reporters in Berlin on Monday.

“In view of this, the Chancellor considers it problematic that the President’s accounts have been permanently suspended.”

Seibert said while Twitter rightly flagged Trump’s inaccurate tweets about the 2020 US election, the ban on his account as a whole was a step too far. He added that governments, not private companies, should decide on restrictions on freedom of expression.

Twitter wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Twitter made the move Friday after outcry over a riot on Capitol Hill. The action robbed the US leader of his ability to communicate on the social media platform, which accelerated his rise to the presidency and continued to play a key role during his tenure.

Violence ensued in Washington, DC, which led to international outcry and renewed calls for Trump’s impeachment. The president had urged his supporters to protest against the solemn confirmation by Congress of Joe Biden as president.

He also used his social media accounts to reiterate false claims that his re-election was stolen before being temporarily blocked by Facebook and Twitter, and subsequently banned from both of them indefinitely.

Merkel’s apparent agreement with the president against Twitter’s decision to remove him comes as a surprise. The German leader has argued with Trump many times over the years, while diplomatic ties between Washington and Berlin have declined.

Merkel is often referred to as the de facto leader of the European Union. In 2018 she resigned as chairwoman of the conservative party of the Christian Democratic Union and will be replaced as Chancellor in the upcoming federal elections in Germany later this year.

Still, Merkel wasn’t the only one criticizing tech giants for removing Trump’s accounts. The move has drawn the ire of other European political figures, including UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, who raise key questions about the power of tech companies and the need for regulation.

“The fact that a CEO can pull the plug on the POTUS speaker without having to check it is confusing,” Breton said in a statement from Politico. “It is not only a confirmation of the efficiency of these platforms, but also shows deep weaknesses in the way our society is organized in the digital space.”

There have been some differences in digital policy in Europe and the US during Trump’s presidency, particularly on issues such as taxes. EU officials hope to improve their tech regulation alignment with the US as Biden’s administration takes over next week.

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