Ben Thompson, on the different responses around the world to tech companies’ restrictions over the past week:
Make no mistake, Europe is far more restrictive on speech than the U.S. is, including strict anti-Nazi laws in Germany, the right to be forgotten, and other prohibitions on broadly defined “harms”; the difference from the German and French perspective, though, is that those restrictions come from the government, not private companies.
This sentiment, as I noted yesterday, is completely foreign to Americans, who whatever their differences on the degree to which online speech should be policed, are united in their belief that the legislature is the wrong place to start; the First Amendment isn’t just a law, but a culture. The implication of American tech companies serving the entire world, though, is that that American culture, so familiar to Americans yet anathema to most Europeans, is the only choice for the latter.
One of the reasons it is interesting to be a Canadian writing about tech is because, generally speaking, we take influence from both Western European and American perspectives on all sorts of matters. Our right of expression is not as wide-ranging as that of the U.S., but it lacks many European limitations as well. Like many in Europe, Canadians feel perfectly able to express their views in public — more than Americans in their country — and do not feel that the small number of legal limitations are restrictive.
This week’s sweeping restrictions of the social media accounts of the president of the United States and the deplatforming of Parler were a necessarily American response to problems in America. The president was not silenced or censored, but his association with private companies was revoked because they did not want to deal with his particular brand of nightmare fuel. But it is clearly not a solution for worldwide issues — especially when non-U.S. countries struggle to enforce their laws against American companies.
Thompson’s prediction for the future of the internet is intriguing:
Here technology itself will return to the forefront: if the priority for an increasing number of citizens, companies, and countries is to escape centralization, then the answer will not be competing centralized entities, but rather a return to open protocols. This is the only way to match and perhaps surpass the R&D advantages enjoyed by centralized tech companies; open technologies can be worked on collectively, and forked individually, gaining both the benefits of scale and inevitability of sovereignty and self-determination.
I hope this is more correct than not.