- President Donald Trump no longer has a social-media platform after several sites banned him in the wake of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
- Those bans are cause for dismay in Mexico, where the president and other leaders want to exert more control over social-media sites’ ability to restrict users.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
MEXICO – The removal of President Donald Trump’s accounts by top social-media sites has sparked fear among Mexican political leaders, who now want control over bans and suspensions and to be able to impose financial penalties on those companies.
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” Trump tweeted at 9:46 a.m.
Almost immediately, Twitter suspended Trump’s account, which had 88.7 million followers, for what it said was “encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts.”
Days later, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat also suspended Trump’s accounts indefinitely.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has criticized the companies’ decisions, saying he “doesn’t like censorship.”
“I can tell you that at the first G20 meeting we have, I am going to make a proposal on this issue,” Obrador said. “Yes, social media should not be used to incite violence and all that, but this cannot be used as a pretext to suspend freedom of expression.”
Others in the Mexican government want to go further. Senate majority leader Ricardo Monreal has proposed a law to “regulate and establish clear limits” on social media.
“What I’m looking [for] with this proposal is to establish clear limits to social media companies owners regarding bans and suspensions of personal accounts,” Monreal told Insider.
“We are not going after more censorship, but the opposite: We want to protect the right of social media users to keep their accounts,” he said.
Monreal’s proposal would allow Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) to overrule social media companies’ decisions on bans. It would allow suspended users to submit an appeal to the IFT.
“This autonomous organism will decide if someone is violating constitutional rights on social media, and if that’s the case, the responsible companies will receive a financial sanction,” Monreal said.
The law would allow fines of up to $4.4 million for companies found to be violating users’ right to free speech. It would only apply to platforms with over a million users in Mexico, directly affecting Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
But protecting freedom by taking more control might not be the right approach, according to Sissi De La Peña, director for the Latin-American Internet Association, a nonprofit organization advocating internet freedom and innovation.
“Monreal’s proposal is an attempt against the open and free nature of the internet. Giving the government a dominant voice over social media” could limit everyone else’s freedom, De La Peña told Insider.
“These censorship models are in place in other regimes like Russia, China, or Iran. Mexico is not one of those regimes. We are an open and democratic country,” De La Peña said.
Some suspect the battle over social media in Mexico is in reality over political control.
On January 22, the Twitter accounts for three political influencers and known advocates for Mexico’s ruling party, the National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA, were closed indefinitely.
Miriam Junne, Vero Islas, and “El Rey Tuitero” (“the Twitter King”) were banned from Twitter for “violating spam policies and attempting to manipulate the platform,” Twitter said.
Political columnist Julio Astillero, who has more than 700,000 Twitter followers, suggested the National Action Party, a right-wing opposition party, could be behind the bans.
“Today is a crucial day for @TwitterMexico. They should reactivate @Miriam_June, @LOVREGA and @ElReyTuitero to confirm there is no factious intentions vs @lopezobrador…#TwitterMustRectify,” Astillero tweeted.
“There is several other examples of Twitter violence against politicians, public servants and advocates of the so called 4t [MORENA] and their accounts have not been canceled,” Astillero added.
Political analyst Lila Abed said what happened to Trump’s social media accounts can not be considered censorship or a violation to his freedom of speech, thus the debate in Mexico “is nothing else but a political battle.”
“I think this battle has a major political background with the pretext of fighting for freedom of speech. It is no coincidence Mexico is going through elections on several states and they presented this proposal just now,” Abed said in a recent interview.
But Monreal said his motive is “a true intention to protect freedom of speech.”
“There is no real freedom of speech today. The social-media owners are the ones who can cancel your accounts and ban your content, and this is a direct hit to freedom. I want an autonomous organism to control this and not some private owners,” he said.
But by imposing fines on foreign companies, the new law could violate the US-Mexico-Canada free-trade agreement, signed by Trump and his counterparts, which states that “no Party shall impose liability on a supplier or user of an interactive computer service.”
“Under this context, Mexico would be violating an international treaty, specifically chapter 28, by giving a discriminatory treatment to these companies,” Abed said.
Mexico could be the first country in Latin America to pass a law to control social media, though De La Peña said there is no need to regulate “something that is already regulated under terms and conditions.”
“Technology in itself is not good nor bad. It depends on how we use it. In the end, we could have avoided … this debate if we as a society learn how to behave on social media,” De La Peña told Insider.