According to Vandendriessche, who called the ban “a disgrace”, he’s planning to raise the issues of social media censorship on the floor of the European Parliament.
Sputnik: Facebook “locked” you out of your personal account after you shared with your followers the story of a recent terrorist act in the outskirts of Paris. What was the reason behind the ban and what was your reaction to it?
Tom Vandendriessche: On Friday there was an Islamist attack in France, where a teacher was beheaded by a Chechen Muslim extremist, who was in France under asylum, by the way. And on Saturday I posted an image of this teacher to remember him, and to voice my point of view. And I also added a blurred image of his beheading, which I saw on Facebook, so it wasn’t a picture from me, and this picture is still on Facebook.
On Sunday I was notified that the content of that image, which was blurred, was “sensitive”, but later on I was told that I was blocked from posting anything for 30 days. So, I think this is a disgrace. It’s also discrimination. I did not get any notification explaining how I could appeal this decision. So, these are all fundamental rights, which are violated, I guess. I remember the horrible picture of the child Aylan [who drowned on the way to - Sputnik] the Greek islands – it was on social media and mainstream media for weeks. And my oldest son was as old as this poor child Aylan. It is a horrible image, as well as the image of the teacher, who was beheaded – is horrible. But we must see reality, and politicians – especially politicians, must be free to talk to their citizens about issues in our society, even if that is disturbing. This is also what the European Court has already said.
Sputnik: You have more than 200,000 followers on Facebook. Many of them are Belgian voters, who cast their ballots for your party – Flemish Interest. By banning you from the network, does the Facebook suppress their online freedoms too?
Tom Vandendriessche: I have more than 200 – it’s 215,000 Flemish people who are on my page – it’s the fourth or fifth-largest page in Flanders. So, it’s not only my right as a politician, or my civil right as a citizen, but also that of my fellow citizens – to express themselves on issues freely on the Facebook platform - I think this is really essential in a democracy. And what’s happening now, is that more and more citizens are silenced – and now even politicians. I think this is the first time a politician – an elected member of the European Parliament - has been blocked from communicating with his voters. So, this is really unbelievable, it’s a disgrace.
Sputnik: You asked your followers to use Telegram instead of Facebook. But tech giants are known for buying smaller companies, so, it’s possible, that any independent messenger - not only Telegram - could be sold at some point to a bigger social media platform, which may lead to similar problems with censorship again. Your party - the Flemish Interest - has already condemned Facebook’s censorship in a recent statement. Does your group in the EU parliament have any initiatives when it comes to “safeguards” against online censorship?
Tom Vandendriessche: Well, first of all, I think big tech companies, such as Facebook and Google – they are platforms, they do not have any editorial responsibilities. I believe that Government protects these big tech firms. Therefore they should have their platforms as open as possible. There is a big problem in our democracy: these big-tech platforms – they have a monopoly. There is no alternative for Facebook or Google, especially Facebook. There is a big problem for democracy if they can silence politicians and citizens. And there is no way to appeal this. I also think that there is a market dimension because of the scale of these organisations, these private companies. In a free market there is no alternative – they must be broken up, and I think my group is also in favour of that, breaking up these big tech companies because their market power is way too big, and we see these companies evolve into “censorship machines”. It’s very disturbing and it’s threatening our democracy.
Editor's note: According to Facebook's policy, any content that "glorifies violence or celebrates the suffering or humiliation of others" is removed from the platform with the exception of some graphic content that helps people raise awareness about these issues and which will be labelled with a warning.
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