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Social media companies risk creating a double standard for political speech online by banning Donald Trump but leaving other leaders online, MPs have warned.
Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account on January 8 following his posts about the violence in the US Capitol.
The decision by social media companies to ban Trump while continuing to host the profiles of other leaders who regularly make inflammatory statements on social media, such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and officials from India’s BJP Party, could result in inconsistent moderation, it has been claimed.
“I think there's a double standard at work here,” said Bob Seely, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight. While noting that he would “never speak in favour” of Trump, the MP highlighted the historic close links between Democrats and large technology businesses.
“The crossover of senior executives going in and out of the White House was, I think, a very frightening thing,” he said.
“There are layers of hypocrisies and double standards and it's not just a simple immediate issue.”
Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey wrote online last week that he does not “celebrate or feel pride” in having to ban the US president from Twitter. “While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation,” he added.
The company has previously been criticised by FCC chairman Ajit Pai for continuing to host the profile of Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. His account has posted messages including one in which he called the “Zionist regime” a “deadly, cancerous growth.”
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPai) May 29, 2020
“I think it's now going to become very difficult to argue that they're not publishers if they're allowing the Ayatollahs to threaten the existence of Israel,” Mr Seely said.
Twitter’s decision to ban Trump could reignite the debate on whether social media sites are publishers or merely platforms for speech.
“It should be the content of the message that attracts censorship, not the author, just as we ban hate speech by law, but not controversial opinions,” said Damian Green, a Conservative MP.
“As soon as they start exercising power to remove people from their platforms, the social media companies accept that they are publishers, not just pipes down which messages can pass,” he added. “This means that they should be covered by similar rules as publishers.”