A month after Poland announced drafted legislation that would hold social media companies accountable for their censorship activities, the author of the widely discussed law has spoken out on why he felt the need to get the state involved.
In an article published to Newsweek on January 21, Sebastian Kaleta (pictured) called on “democratic governments all over the globe” to defend the free speech rights of their citizens against the censorship efforts of social media companies.
“Two thousand years ago, the Roman comedian Juvenal asked, ‘Who will watch the watchers?’” Kaleta wrote. “In the case of Big Tech, I believe that the answer lies with the people – not nameless moderators operating with no transparency and no ability for recourse.”
Kaleta serves as both a deputy minister of justice in the Polish government and as a member of the nation’s parliament.
“The Freedom Act I have proposed in Poland is not only a law that would guarantee Polish citizens their constitutional right to freedom of speech, but it provides a blueprint for how to confront the problem of unaccountable speech regulation by Silicon Valley oligarchs.”
The law would establish a “Freedom of Speech Council”. Members of the Council, approved by a three-fifths majority vote in parliament, would have the power to compel social media companies to restore a removed post or suspended account if no Polish law had been broken.
Kaleta called the problem of social media censorship “systemic”, saying that it goes beyond the ban of former President Donald Trump from platforms like Facebook and Twitter. “Ordinary citizens,” he said, “are finding their content regulated by invisible agents behind computers far, far away.”
He called the internet “an online ‘Speakers Corner’, and a “truly democratizing force,” giving everyone an equal footing and opportunity to make their voices heard.
But the privatization and centralization of “digitized” free speech in the hands of Big Tech poses a danger to free speech at large, he argued. It places people at the mercy of social media monopolies like Facebook and Twitter and has even prevented the forging of alternative forums. This was most recently seen when Parler was removed from Amazon, Google, and Apple, effectively taking it offline.
“The arbitrary exclusion of voices, and even companies, from the internet makes it clearer than ever that social media companies are not just platforms, but publishers,” Kaleta wrote, “ – and not merely publishers either, but monopoly gatekeepers for the rapid transmission of information to the public at large.”
He argued that social media companies should now be seen as a public utility, “an essential communication tool” that must be governed by “democratically accountable oversight”.
“Guaranteeing citizens recourse against Big Tech arbitrariness is a first step in the direction of orienting the internet toward the public good. Polish citizens – and, hopefully, citizens of other countries as well – will soon be able to conduct themselves responsibly online without fearing that an unknown, unseen censor will suspend their account in the middle of the night.”
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