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7 Sep, 2023 15:44

The EU’s best weapon against free speech isn’t working

The European Union has just realized that it can’t rule the internet with an iron fist by throwing around the ‘Kremlin propaganda’ label
The EU’s best weapon against free speech isn’t working

The European Commission has concluded in a new report that despite making pinky-promises to “mitigate the reach and influence of Kremlin-sponsored disinformation,” large social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were “unsuccessful” in doing so. What a shocker that this research by oversight advocates has ended up advocating more oversight. Russia just happens to be the most convenient scapegoat. 

Using the same kind of smear tactics that the bloc has used previously – like when it included Russia alongside Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in a security and threat report – this time it involved conflating “pro-Kremlin” social media accounts with those that it considers to be “Kremlin-aligned” or “Kremlin-backed.” In other words, mere disagreement with the Western narrative is enough to land anyone in the “pro-Kremlin” camp and to be considered worthy of content moderation or banning by the EU. And now they’re frustrated that social media platforms have dropped the ball on carrying out that censorship. 

“Platforms rarely reviewed and removed more than 50 percent of the clearly violative content we flagged in repeated tests,” the report said. What kind of content would that be, exactly? It’s hard to tell, because their examples conflate the legitimately debatable with the patently absurd, and suggest that both warrant censorship. They cite, for example, content that accuses Ukraine of being run by Nazis – which is a legitimate concern, given that the Western press has reported extensively on the powerful role played by neo-Nazis in Ukraine, which are “aggressively trying to impose their agenda on Ukrainian society, including by using force against those with opposite political and cultural views,” according to a publication by the Washington-based Freedom House prior to the conflict, adding that “they are a real physical threat to left-wing, feminist, liberal, and LGBT activists, human rights defenders, as well as ethnic and religious minorities” in Ukraine. The Council of Europe had made similar observations. 

There’s also the fact that the West trained the neo-Nazi Azov battalion to fight Russians, and that Reuters reported way back in 2018 that then-president Petro Poroshenko “would risk major repercussions” should he take action against neo-Nazis. 

That kind of does sound like there’s a neo-Nazi issue that’s at the very least worthy of highlighting and debating. Yet the EU dismisses any such suggestion as Russian disinformation. 

The report also takes issue with accounts “denying war crimes,” using events in Bucha as an example. I’m sorry, but was there a war crimes tribunal that we missed? We’re talking here about events taking place in the immediate fog of war. Attempting to sort through facts, realities, and manipulations is precisely the kind of thing with which social media is meant to assist. Everyone by this point knows that it’s about having access to as much raw data as possible. We expect to see a chaotic mess online – not a curated Encyclopedia Britannica set or the evening news. What makes Brussels think it is entitled to a monopoly on that process?

The report places these examples of inconvenient debates alongside a blatantly ridiculous example of sh*tposting whereby someone made up the name of a fake media outlet and announced that Ukraine was sending a radioactive cloud towards Europe. Look, if anyone is so dumb as to believe something like that, then it certainly isn’t the EU that’s going to save them from their own stupidity. Not for long, anyway. Just let them spend their entire next week digging a fallout shelter while their neighbors have a good laugh. 

In a line that just begs to be read repeatedly out of sheer incredulity that someone could be so tone-deaf, the report notes that so-called Kremlin disinfo efforts are “designed to foment political and social instability among its adversaries by stoking ethnic conflict, promoting isolationism, and distracting public attention away from Ukraine and onto domestic affairs.” How dare the people of Europe insist that their leaders focus on the considerable problems faced by their own country and citizens, which have long been exacerbated by misguided national and EU-level policies, rather than riveting their attention to Ukraine! Indeed, if it wasn’t for those meddling Russians, Europe would be a utopia of sunshine and rainbows, everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya, with nothing else for citizens to concern themselves with besides what’s happening in Ukraine. 

The EU laments that “the Kremlin and its proxies captured growing audiences with highly produced propaganda content, and steered users to unregulated online spaces, where democratic norms have eroded and hate and lies could spread with impunity.” They have it all backwards. People wanting to engage in debate and discussion of topics and viewpoints that the EU — in all its arrogance as the self-appointed arbiter of truth — is keen to censor, have been driven to other platforms specifically because they support free speech in all its glory and imperfection. 

“Over the course of 2022, the audience and reach of Kremlin-aligned social media accounts increased substantially all over Europe,” according to the report, adding that “the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards.” In other words, Elon Musk, who considers himself a “free speech absolutist,” came along and bought Twitter, leveled the playing field by opening up debate and reducing censorship, and what ended up happening is that people flooded to the platform as a refreshing alternative to the curated and censored Western establishment narrative that they’re spoon-fed elsewhere. 

So what’s the EU going to do about it now? Well, mandatory compliance with its Digital Services Act is now in effect as of last month. This means that, theoretically, all the major social media platforms are obligated to work with the EU’s handpicked “civil society” actors to moderate and censor content – no doubt in alignment with the EU’s narrative. Musk should play along and take notes about the kind of censorship requests that are made of him by Brussels. Then he should publish them on Twitter in the interest of radical transparency and the kind of uncompromising defense of democracy to which the EU is constantly paying lip service as a pretext for its crackdowns on our fundamental freedoms.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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