The EU authorities are scrambling to protect their social media space against the ‘free speech absolutist’ By Matthieu Buge, who worked on Russia for the magazine l’Histoire, the Russian film magazine Séance, and as a columnist for Le Courrier de Russie. He is the author of the book Le Cauchemar russe (‘The Russian Nightmare’).Elon Musk and a Twitter logo are seen in this illustration photo in Warsaw, Poland on 30 November, 2022. © Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images
After Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the recent reactions of Brussels’ bureaucrats, it has become clear how far the EU is willing to go in order to preserve its own bubble of political agenda.
Just as one needs a special dictionary in order to understand Kant’s work and his own understanding of certain terms and concepts, more and more, one needs a special dictionary to understand the language of the EU. And the first entry to look up is ‘F – Freedom’. Its synonym, ‘liberty’, is the first word in France’s motto. And with the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk and the wish of the billionaire to restore total freedom of speech on the platform, we have a new opportunity to try to decrypt it.
Commenting on the French-US partnership during his speech at the White House on December 1, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Our two nations are sisters in their fight for freedom.” Words that are quite consistent with the EU’s suddenly emerging rhetoric concerning the freedom of the Chinese people facing the zero-Covid policy of the Chinese Communist Party, the freedom of the Uyghurs in the west of China, the freedom of Russians opposing the Kremlin, the freedom of Iranian women to be like Western women… We could go on forever with this list, because it is constantly changing, adapting itself to the context of geopolitics.
As a concept, freedom of speech is really an illusion, as it is ruled, like everything else in the world, by balances of power. The EU proved this hard-to-admit fact to be true when it quickly banned RT and Sputnik after the beginning of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. And there is no doubt that this threadbare concept has been used in geopolitics for ages, establishing amusing if not pathetic double standards.
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But double standards are not really the issue here. What is at stake is pure logic. Thierry Breton, the commissioner for internal market of the EU, talked to Elon Musk in order to make Brussels’ point clear. And then said: “I welcome Elon Musk’s statements of intent to get Twitter 2.0 ready for the DSA [Digital Services Act]. I am pleased to hear that he has read it carefully and considers it as a sensible approach to implement on a worldwide basis. But let’s also be clear that there is still huge work ahead, as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation, and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising.”
Breton should hand every citizen of EU member states some instructions, or a guidebook, to navigate the EU’s logic here. “To reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech” is like saying “Let’s have lunch together; you’re free to order whatever I tell you to eat.”
These unelected bureaucrats threatened to ban Musk’s newly acquired company in the EU if he refused to comply with their rules, and the mainstream media has found a new way to wage war against those who don’t agree with all their narratives and restrictions: The use of the word ‘absolutist’. While Musk himself wears the label of ‘free speech absolutist’, pundits are using it as a way to pillory those they can’t dismiss as ‘conspiracy theorists’. In this context, ‘absolutist’ rhymes with ‘terrorist’, ‘extremist’, or whatever you can imagine could be a threat.
Famed Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson has repeatedly argued that free speech implies that one should be challenged and even offended, that it is a condition of dialectics and progress. This is pure common sense. No more in Europe. During the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to promote their quarantine politics, some European governments said it was necessary to “limit freedoms in order to protect freedom.” Now, they have to limit freedom of speech in order to protect freedom of speech – a logic that can, understandably, leave many people speechless.
Things become clearer when one looks at what is supposed to be moderated. Dangerous scientific misconceptions, threats, calls to hatred and violence? Yes, but not quite. It depends on which side of the political agenda you find yourself on. In some cases (the Ukraine crisis, Covid-19, climate change), ‘unacceptable’ views usually come under intense social pressure and do not benefit from publicity in the media, even if they escape social media moderation.
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Then there are issues that cannot even be discussed openly: The EU’s mass migration politics and the LGBTQ+ agenda, both promoted by the authorities. Saying that they are ‘promoted by the authorities’ is no understatement. In 2012, the BBC quoted Peter Sutherland, former chairman of Goldman Sachs and UN special representative for international migration, as saying the EU “should undermine national homogeneity.” As these issues concern individuals directly, it is quite easy to declare a threat to national or supranational order, as well as invoking emotions, without bothering with scientific arguments – alternative views should be suppressed as racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic… well, anti-mankind, or, as Justin Trudeau would say, anti-peoplekind.
After having to deal with Donald Trump and his national-centered politics, the EU (along with the Democrats in the US) is now facing the ‘absolutist’ Elon Musk, who has rehabilitated the former American president on the network he’s taken on. They decided to move quickly and impose their vision upon him. Obviously not fast enough, because Musk has some aces up his sleeve. The release on December 3 of ‘the Twitter Files’ by Musk through journalist Matt Taibbi officially reveals what anyone with half a brain had noticed long ago: Twitter had been favoring the woke side of the political spectrum. Journalist Glenn Greenwald sounded the alarm about this ten years ago.
So, what does ‘freedom’ mean in the mind of Brussels’ bureaucrats? It is the freedom of the EU, as well as its aligned media and followers, to push their wide agenda of socio-cultural revolution and impose it on opponents who do not want to hear about this anthropological shift – “No matter the cost,” as Macron would say.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.