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“Pop-Up” Regulations for Big Tech

While suspending Donald Trump’s social-media accounts was the right move for democracy, deplatforming a sitting president is a highly consequential decision. It should be a cause for serious concern that a few tech companies were able to make it, based not on an impartial rule of law, but on proprietary terms of service and the will of their top bosses.

PARIS – If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the speed of government decision-making can be just as important as the decisions themselves. If democracies are to retain their authority in the twenty-first century, they must combine the debate and consensus-building at which they excel with the efficiency and agility they often lack.

When we resign ourselves to the belief that democratic systems must move slowly, we risk allowing undemocratic actors to challenge these systems’ effectiveness and legitimacy. And when we delegate the administration of public debate to such actors – as we have done with social-media platforms – we compound that risk.

This has been starkly apparent since the storming of the US Capitol on January 6. Because then-President Donald Trump incited the insurrection, Twitter suspended his account, instantly cutting him off from his 89 million followers – a base built over several years and tens of thousands of false, misleading, and incendiary tweets. Other social-media platforms, including Facebook, followed suit. And Amazon terminated its web-hosting services for Parler, the unmoderated platform where Trump would have found many adoring supporters.