The scandalous ideological censorship that big tech companies are applying, especially conservative users, will have a response in Poland.
“The user of social networks must feel that their rights are protected”
Last Thursday, the Polish Ministry of Justice issued a statement announcing “a pioneering law on the protection of freedom of expression on the Internet.” In the note, the Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, states: “The user of social networks must feel that their rights are protected. Nor can there be censorship of expression. Freedom of speech and freedom of debate are the essence of democracy.” The Ministry specifically refers to content removed even though it does not violate Polish law.
The Ministry of Justice criticizes the “ideological censorship” on social networks
“Often the victims of ideological censorship tendencies are representatives of various groups operating in Poland, whose content is removed or blocked on the Internet,” Ziobro noted. Likewise, Secretary of State Sebastian Kaleta, who oversees the Ministry’s work on the law on freedom of speech and dissemination of information on the Internet, added: “The time has come for Poland to have regulations that protect freedom of speech in Internet, protecting against the abuses of the big corporations of Internet.”
Networks will not be able to remove content that does not violate Polish laws
As announced by the Polish Ministry of Justice, “social networking sites may not, at their discretion, delete entries or block user accounts, provided that the content posted on them does not violate Polish law. If the content is deleted or the account is blocked, your user will have the right to file a complaint with the website.” Likewise, the draft of the law contemplates “the presentation of a complaint to the social network site about publications that contain content contrary to Polish law, with a request to block them.”
An example of this was the censorship by Facebook, three months ago, of a Polish page that criticized the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. Coincidentally, the censored page belongs to the Polish liberal-conservative association KoLiber, openly contrary to the ideological thesis of the left-wing.
The last word will be held by a specialized court
The statement from the Ministry of Justice adds that in both cases “the service must resolve the claim within 48 hours. If you issue a negative decision, you can go to court and the court will consider your claim within seven days. The process will be entirely electronic and will be in charge of a specialized Court for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, established in one of the regional courts.”
The law provides for a “blind lawsuit” to stop harassment by anonymous users
In addition, the Polish legal project also provides for the introduction of a new instrument, called “blind lawsuit”, which explains as follows: “Someone whose personal rights are infringed on the Internet by a stranger, may file a claim for the protection of these assets without providing the defendant’s data. It is enough to indicate the URL where the offending content was published, the date and time of publication and the name of the user profile or login to be successfully brought to court. When proposing such a demand, the draft takes into account the demands made, among other things, by the Ombudsman.” This is a pioneering measure that, if implemented, could be highly effective against the growing problem of online harassment by anonymous users.
The difference between Polish law and those in other countries
Kaleta compared this bill with the regulations applied in other countries, mainly in Germany and France: “The solutions there place emphasis on the rapid removal of content that is considered to violate the law of a given country, and not on the protection of freedom of expression. Therefore, these regulations are primarily repressive in nature. For example, in Germany, a social networking site that breaks the law is subject to a very high financial penalty, up to € 50 million. Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice ultimately decides whether the published content violates the law.”
The Polish Ministry of Justice also points out that “the solutions presented in recent days by the European Commission in the Digital Services Law also focus on eliminating prohibited content.” On the contrary, “Poland wants to adopt its own regulations, effectively defending the constitutional right to freedom of speech, so that in the event of a dispute with a social network site and its user, the courts decide on a possible violation of the law.”
Spain and the “digital decree” that allows the Government to close websites without a court order
This Polish model would be in accordance, by the way, with the Spanish Constitution, which gives the Justice the duty to protect citizens “in the exercise of their rights and legitimate interests, without, in any case, being defenseless” (Article 24), despite which in 2019 the Socialist Party (PSOE), the Popular Party and Ciudadanos supported a decree that gives the Government the power to close websites without a court order under the pretext of “guaranteeing public security and national defense.” A measure that was criticized by the Association of Internet Users, which warned that “it can affect multiple fundamental rights.”
It so happens that Vox party voted against that “digital decree”. Precisely, the ruling party in Poland, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice), is a partner of Vox, as both are part of the Group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the European Parliament.
The scandal over ideological censorship in the US elections
The Polish bill comes after the scandalous censorship that technology giants such as Facebook and Twitter have practiced in the US presidential elections, exhibiting a clear bias against the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, and even censoring information that is uncomfortable for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden, published by the New York Post. A case of censorship that even the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, came to recognize was “wrong.” In 2018 Dorsey had already recognized the leftist bias of his company, given the controversy over the ideological censorship applied by Twitter against conservatives in the US.
Trump has already signed an executive order to stop this ideological censorship
In May, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop this ideological censorship on social networks. To date, big technology companies benefit from the benefits of a 1996 law that protects them from being sued for the content published on them. However, when it comes to censoring what their users publish, Twitter and Facebook act as communication media, violating the neutrality required of this type of platform. Trump’s executive order seeks to correct this paradox, assuming that if a technology platform acts as a medium by censoring its users, it will have to be legally responsible for what they publish, just as it happens with the media.
Foto: Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwości. Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and Secretary of State Sebastian Kaleta during the presentation of the bill to protect freedom of speech on social media.