Posted on December 23, 2020

Poland Threatens Hefty Fines for Social Media Companies That Censor Legal Speech

RT, December 21, 2020

Social media companies that remove posts whose content is legal can be fined up to €1.8 million under a new Polish bill. Users have welcomed its introduction as an antidote to other countries’ growing censorship demands.

Any social media company that removes content or blocks accounts that do not violate Polish law can be fined under the new legislation, announced in a press conference on Thursday by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. The bill also creates a special Court for the Protection of Freedom of Speech within one of the district courts.

Individuals whose posts have been censored will have the right to complain to the platform in question, which has 24 hours to respond. The user then has 48 hours to petition the new court to have their content reinstated, and the court then has seven days to consider the petition.

If the court finds in favor of the user and the social media platform does not restore the content or unblock the account, they will be fined up to €1.8 million by the Office of Electronic Communications. The whole process will happen online, according to Ziobro.

The victims of “ideological censorship” are unfairly quashed by social media platforms “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,” the justice minister said.

The new court will also be tasked with handling blocking requests regarding content that does violate Polish law. Additionally, it will handle a new type of “blind” lawsuit in which someone who is wronged by an anonymous party on the internet can file a lawsuit to correct the wrong, even without the defendant’s personal data. All that would be needed for such a suit is the offender’s username, the website where the offending post was made, and the date and time of posting.

Secretary of State Sebastian Kaleta said this solution represents a significant improvement over attempts by countries such as France and Germany to handle such problems, noting that their efforts are “primarily repressive” and focus on the quick removal of content rather than protecting free expression.

A government press release specifically cited the European Commission’s Digital Service Act – a sprawling EU-wide piece of legislation which also “focus[es] on removing prohibited content” – as one of the motivating factors behind Warsaw’s rollout of the new protections for online speech.

“Poland wants to adopt its own regulations, effectively defending the constitutional right to freedom of expression, so that in the event of a dispute…the courts will decide on a possible violation of the law,” it said.

Social media users far outside Poland were thrilled by the legislation.

Many – especially Americans – were impatient to see such laws in their own countries. “Must be nice to have such leaders,” one user sighed wistfully.

Others considered a move to Poland.

And several users simply tagged US President Donald Trump, who has vowed to veto the National Defense Authorization Act if it does not include a provision to strip social media platforms of their Section 230 legal liability. Section 230 exempts social media platforms from legal responsibility for content posted by their users while still allowing them to moderate that content – a loophole its opponents have claimed enables ideologically-motivated censorship.

While both houses of Congress have passed the bill with veto-proof majorities, the president still plans to veto it, according to White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Unfortunately for Americans looking eastward, Poland is not yet allowing visitors from the US (except from Illinois and New York) due to the novel coronavirus epidemic.