The decision by social media giants to ban President Trump raises a “very big question” over how they are regulated, Matt Hancock has said.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram blocked Mr Trump’s accounts after his supporters stormed the US Capitol last week. Mr Hancock, the health secretary and a former culture secretary, told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News that the move showed they were “taking editorial decisions”.
“And that is a very big question because then it raises questions about their editorial judgments and the way that they’re regulated,” he said. “It is obviously one for the culture secretary, but as a former culture secretary I think it does lead to very interesting questions about the role of social media and the role of the social media companies in the decisions, in the editorial decisions that they take.”
The government announced last month that Ofcom would be given powers to investigate social media companies under the Online Harms Bill, which is due to be debated this year.
The Conservative MP Damian Collins, a former chairman of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee, said Mr Hancock was right that social media companies had taken editorial decisions over Mr Trump’s account. “But they’ve always taken editorial decisions, mainly through their algorithms,” he added. “Their systems promote, recommend and rank content so they’ve never been neutral.
“What they’ve done now is go further in their decision to close down Donald Trump’s accounts because he’s inciting an insurrection that led to violence and death. But that absolutely means now that we need to say, ‘Is it right that we leave these decisions to people like [the Facebook founder and chief executive] Mark Zuckerberg?’ It shouldn’t be left to them. There needs to be a regulatory framework around them that sets the rules of the road.”
Mr Zuckerberg wrote on Friday that the company would block Mr Trump’s accounts until Joe Biden had taken office because it was clear that Mr Trump “intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor”.
Mr Trump now faces impeachment proceedings.
Facebook said that it welcomed some regulation. “Facebook has long called for new rules to set high standards across the internet,” a spokeswoman said. “We already have strict policies against harmful content on our platforms, but regulations are needed so that private companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone.”
Twitter, which said on Friday that it had suspended the president’s account, did not comment.