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Germany has reservations on Trump Twitter ban: Merkel spokesman

Legislators, not private companies, should decide on speech rules, chancellor believes

U.S. President Donald Trump and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo during the annual NATO heads of government summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain in December 2019.   © Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reservations about the way President Donald Trump's Twitter account was suspended, her spokesman said, adding that legislators, not private companies, should decide on any necessary curbs to free expression.

The intervention by Steffen Seibert, her chief spokesman, reflects concern in Berlin and much of Europe at the power giant social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have to shape public discourse.

Merkel's relations with Trump have been frosty during the his four years in office, making her apparent decision to side with him in his objections to being removed from the platform all the more striking.

Twitter permanently banned Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, unleashing hours of chaos in which five people died. The platform said his tweets could cause more violence.

"The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance," Seibert told reporters at a regular government news conference in Berlin on Monday.

"Given that, the chancellor considers it problematic that the president's accounts have been permanently suspended."

He added that Twitter's practice of adding notes to Trump's inaccurate tweets had been appropriate, since the platform bore a responsibility for ensuring public discourse was not poisoned by hate, lies or incitement.

While Facebook followed Twitter in banning Trump, it was the short messaging service that he made his own, leveraging a vast online following to rout his challengers in the Republican primaries and then capture the presidency in 2016.

Germans are wary of infringements of free speech, partly thanks to memories of the Communists and of Adolf Hitler's Nazis, totalitarian regimes that ruled on German soil during the 20th century, both of which used violence and censorship to seize and hold power. 

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