After social-media sites booted Trump, Mexican leaders want to put ‘clear limits’ on what those companies can do

Donald Trump phone
  • 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.

Trump’s last tweet before being permanently banned came on January 8, two days after the US Capitol riots.

“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.”

Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador AMLO
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at his daily news conference in Mexico City, February 14, 2020.

“I don’t like anyone to be censored and for them to have their right taken away to send a message on Twitter or on Facebook,” he said at his morning news conference on January 7.

“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.

Mexico Senator Ricardo Monreal
Mexican Sen. Ricardo Monreal at the Senate building in Mexico City, May 30, 2019.

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.

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A woman on a cellphone outside a nursing home in Guadalupe, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, May 6, 2020.

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.

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Special operators describe an overlooked vulnerability highlighted in the Capitol Hill riot

FireEye 2016 Black Hat expo
The FireEye booth at the 2016 Black Hat cyber-security conference in Las Vegas, August 3, 2016

  • The FireEye hack and the rioters who breached Capitol Hill were two more visible signs of a growing conflict in cyberspace being waged by state actors and private individuals.
  • Government and private entities, high-profile officials, and everyday people are all targets in that conflict, but there are many things that they can do to improve their security online and in real life.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As the turbulent 2020 came to an end, US officials discovered that Russian intelligence had penetrated the US’s cyber armor for months without anyone noticing.

In December, FireEye, a private cybersecurity firm, revealed that Russian hackers had stolen hacking tools the company used during “Red Team” evaluations, which are used in the military and intelligence communities to test security and find potential vulnerabilities by simulating attacks.

FireEye’s discovery triggered an avalanche of revelations about the Russian intrusion. The NSA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and US Cyber Command were all caught unawares.

The Pentagon, several intelligence agencies, nuclear laboratories, and numerous Fortune 500 companies were compromised at varying degrees. US officials are still trying to determine the extent of the damage.

To make matters worse, in early January, during the intrusion in the Capitol, sensitive systems were stolen, including a laptop belonging to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

These are just the most recent and pronounced examples of an undeclared conflict in the cyber domain between the US and its near-peer adversaries, primarily Russia, which runs parallel to the competition between those adversaries, conducted by state and private actors, taking place around the world.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care

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A note left in the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi by a Trump supporter who entered the building during a riot, January 6, 2021

When it comes to tapping a government device in order to access sensitive networks and obtain classified information, there are many moving parts. The placement, accessibility, and vulnerability of a device or network play a big part.

“It really depends on how accessible the device or network is and [on] the methods used by the malign actors,” Jonathan, a former officer with joint special-operations and intelligence experience, told Insider.

“For example, take the recent intrusion in the Capitol building, where we have news that the FBI feared a rioter who stole House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop from her office may have intended to sell it to Russian security services,” Jonathan added.

“This makes a great case for both physical and digital security, an even more critical undertaking given the proliferation of mobile devices these days. You can’t have one without the other.”

Everyone’s concern

Wannacry cyberattack North Korea
Homeland Security officials at a briefing where they blamed North Korea for unleashing the so-called WannaCry cyberattack, December 19, 2017.

Digital security challenges often spill over from the military and intelligence domains into personal lives. Cyberstalking, cyberbullying, cybercrime, digital coercion, and doxxing – the unsolicited sharing of personal information – are a reality for many in an era of unprecedented connectivity.

Signature Management Unit (SMU), a risk, security, and intelligence consulting firm led by former special-operations and intelligence professionals, recently released a digital security guide that companies and private citizens alike can use to boost their cyber defenses.

Featuring six threat scenarios, ranging from cyberstalking to foreign intelligence, and 31 simple techniques, the guide arms those seeking to take their digital security to another level with the knowhow to do so. The authors’ special-operations and intelligence background adds a refreshing level of authenticity.

“We recognize that obtaining a timely, holistic, and coherent understanding of how to approach individual digital security and privacy is difficult and potentially inaccessible to the layman,” the authors write. “However, these matters do not just concern government spies, murky organizations, or those conducting corporate espionage.”

Some of the guide’s key takeaways for public and private audiences are the importance of preemptive action, physical security, situational awareness, and a layered defense plan.

Pelosi office
A Trump supporter in the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi amid a riot that breached the Capitol building, January 6, 2021

Even if a person is concerned that their data or devices have been compromised, there are still steps that can minimize the damage.

“For starters, don’t let your devices fall into the wrong hands – this could be leaving it unattended in a coffee shop or not letting it out of your sight when crossing a border, and everywhere in between,” Jonathan added.

“[Also] ensure your devices are fully encrypted, and limit unauthorized users from being able to access them physically through the lightning USB port (phones) or by messing with your firmware/boot options,” Jonathan said. “Use tools like the ‘Find my iPhone’ feature enabled which provides you with a remote wipe option should it be required.”

When it comes to personal devices, measures like two-factor authentication, fairly complex passwords, and network security are important.

The commercial aspect of digital security is perhaps as important and concerns a larger audience since companies and private citizens are also on the “target deck.”

“While malign nation states like Russia are a serious threat, we also have the insidious and less visible threat from corporate big-data companies (and many others like Lexis Nexis, Oracle) such as Google and Facebook, who traffic the sale of individual data for profit that results from targeted advertising,” Jonathan told Insider. “We should all be advocates of the right to privacy and severely limiting others’ ability to profit from the sale of your personal data.”

Although the extent of the Russian cyberattacks is yet to be determined, malign actors working on behalf of Moscow have shown that digital security threats are real and not only concern the military and intelligence communities but private citizens as well.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (National Service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

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