On February 1, 2021, the Polish Ministry of Justice issued a draft act on freedom of speech and social media. The legislation was originally proposed in December of last year but quickly became increasingly relevant in January as these tech giants took to banning the president of the United States — an act the Polish government decried as censorship.
Washington StandardAs freedom of speech and political debate is a cornerstone of all free societies, the Minister of Justice in Poland has taken action to make sure social media companies cannot stifle it. The proposed legislation appoints a freedom of speech council which will be tasked with making sure legal speech cannot be unceremoniously wiped from the internet by big tech.
The Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro points out that because most political discourse and debate takes place online, arbitrary censorship by internet tech giants infringes on people’s freedoms.
“Often, the victims of tendencies for ideological censorship are also representatives of various groups operating in Poland, whose content is removed or blocked, just because they express views and refer to values that are unacceptable from the point of view of communities… with an ever-stronger influence on the functioning of social media,” Ziobro stated.
While advocates of private business and freedom of association — as we are — will be quick to make the claim that “Facebook and Twitter are private companies and can ban who they want,” it is important to remind everyone that this is not a true statement.
As TFTP reported in 2018, Facebook announced that it partnered with the arm of the government-funded Atlantic Council, known as the Digital Forensic Research Lab that was brought on to help the social media behemoth with “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.”
The Atlantic Council is the group that NATO uses to whitewash wars and foster hatred toward Russia, which in turn allows them to continue to justify themselves. It’s funded by arms manufacturers like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. It is also funded by billionaire oligarchs like Ukraine’s Victor Pinchuk and Saudi billionaire Bahaa Hariri.
The list goes on and the fact that their funding comes from the United States, the US Army, and the Air Force directly negates the “private” aspect of the partnership.
The “think tank” Facebook partnered with to make decisions on who they censor is directly funded by multiple state actors — including the United States — which voids any and all claims that Facebook is a wholly “private actor.”
According to the National Law Review, the proposed Polish bill acts as follows:
The draft act also provides that if a website blocks an account or deletes a certain entry, even though its content does not violate/infringe upon Polish law, the user will be able to lodge a complaint with the service provider. The provider must confirm that the complaint has been received and will then have 48 hours to consider it. If the provider dismisses the complaint, the user will be able to appeal that decision to the Freedom of Speech Council, which will consider the appeal within seven days. The proceedings before the council would be conducted electronically, to expedite the process and minimize the costs. The council will proceed in closed sessions. It will not take evidence from witnesses, parties, expert opinions and visual inspections, and the evidentiary proceedings before the council will boil down to evidence submitted by the parties (the user and the provider, represented by its representative in the country) or to information already known to the council.
If the council deems the appeal justified, it may order the website to immediately restore the blocked content or account. Thereafter, having received the order, the provider will have no more than 24 hours to comply. Failure to comply with the council’s order may lead to an administrative fine of up to PLN50,000,000 (i.e., €11,000,000, or $13,500,000). Such high financial penalties may prevent social networking services administrators from removing content, even if it is clearly harmful, out of fear of disputes as to such content’s legality.
In addition, the provider will not be able to limit access to content that has already been scrutinized by the council, even if the circumstances should later change and the entry proves to be unlawful after all. The council’s decision will be final and the new body will be able to limit its statement of grounds solely to an indication of the facts that it deemed evident and to quoting the legal provisions that constituted the legal basis for the decision reached, which may, in fact, deprive the provider of the right to appeal to the administrative court.
The Polish bill brings the potential regulation of speech back within the bounds of a democratic nation state. It therefore renders its regulation democratically accountable, and allows citizens to mount challenges and fight for freer speech. After all, it is surely better to be subject to the will of democratically accountable lawmakers than to that of the unaccountable masters of the silicon universe, or, perhaps worse, the unaccountable managerial mediocrities of the EU.