Trump's face cut from a newspaper

Words matter on social media: Who decides about the limits to freedom of speech?


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We all saw the images of the rioters storming the US Capitol on January 6th. Most of us probably also noticed that following the insurrection, Twitter and Facebook banned Donald Trump from their platforms. While this might seem like a problem far from home, the insurrection also gives us food for thought in Europe. Distrust of institutions and false narratives are gaining ground everywhere and threaten to break up our democracies.

The ban of an elected official from social media invites discussion about the balance between online platforms being allowed to ban users who violate their policies and freedom of expression, especially of elected officials. It also asks us to consider the relationship between our governments and online platforms, since so far the CEO's of these platforms have been allowed to make these decisions without broad regulatory oversight by governments. To address this lack of oversight, the European Commission proposed the European Democracy Act, the Digital Services act, and the Digital Markets act.

  • Do you think online platforms should be allowed to ban elected officials from their platforms?
  • Who should take responsibility for what is said on social media and the possible following actions – is it the author or do tech companies share responsibility for what users post on their platforms?
  • What are your fact-checking habits when you go through content on social media?
  • Should there be more regulatory oversight by governments over these online platforms?

The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has selected some of its resources to provide young people like you with background information and insights linked to the topic above.

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Vivienne dowd
07 March 2021
I think government officials should be allowed have social media as long as it’s used for good and used for non-governmental purposes. I believe in freedom of speech and that everyone should be allowed have a voice but if they use the site to spread lies or use it for propaganda, I think it should be suspended for some time. I think when back on the site, they should be monitored and if they continue to influence people by spreading lies, they should be banned from the site or banned until they are no longer a government official who has influence.
04 March 2021
Everyone should take responsibility for what they say and do online & everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, however if something is said online on a platform owned by a private enterprise, it is that companies right to censor or ban anything that doesn’t uphold their companies values. They are not owned by the government and under no obligation to amend to any countries laws or values. If a social media platform was owned by the government it might only lead to propaganda that aids the government currently in office. That’s why it’s important that that social media sites are non-governmental and can be used by anybody as long as they abide by the rules of the platform that they signed up to use.
30 January 2021
Social media platforms are vital mechanisms for the sustainment of democracy. Thus government should not take control over them. The companies that own those platforms should not act like dictators and ban whoever they want from their platforms for no true and specific reason that leaves no other choice (for example verbal harassment, inappropriate content etc.). As for the elected officials, they ought to know their status and act properly when using social platforms. If their acts harm democracy, for example by having bad intentions and manipulating people, they should be banned from that platform, just like any other non elected person would have been banned if they were so toxic for the community.