Are Twitter’s Shareholders the Arbiters of Free Speech in the Netherlands?

That’s what Martin Bosma asks during what seems to be a parliamentary committee hearing (I’m not sure exactly what it was; our Dutch readers can tell us). The incident that prompted the discussion was the suspension of Geert Wilders from Twitter due to his tweet about immigration.

Mr. Bosma is a member of Mr. Wilders’ party, the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV). However, what is surprising in this instance is that that Jan Middendorp, a representative of a rival party, the VVD, is in broad agreement with the PVV on the issue.

Many thanks to C for the translation, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:

Video transcript:

00:00   I have submitted questions in writing, together with my colleague van Gent,
00:04   about the blocking of our colleague Geert Wilders.
00:09   The question is, of course… I have no answers yet, so I think it’s important to find
00:13   out what the minister’s position is regarding freedom of speech.
00:18   Can Twitter decide to block one of our colleagues? If so, how often does this happen?
00:26   According to the VVD, the law applies online as much as in the real world.
00:32   The judge can decide in cases where this is not clear.
00:35   So, who is the arbiter when it concerns freedom of speech online?
00:41   Is it the shareholders of Twitter, the minister or somebody else? As far as the VVD is concerned,
00:46   it is not the government, nor the shareholder of a tech company,
00:50   so the question is, how does this relate to freedom of speech,
00:53   how does the minister plan to deal with this?
00:56   And what was her response when she heard about the block of our colleague Geert Wilders?
01:02   [Speaker:] Mr Bosma would like to interrupt.
01:07   I don’t know if Mr Middendorp was done with his section on Twitter, I don’t want to interrupt.
01:12   I just wanted to say we have to be critical when it comes to big tech companies.
01:16   That sounds like a conclusion. —Speaker, I appreciate very much that Mr Middendorp
01:19   speaks in defense of my party leader [Wilders]; that takes civil courage.
01:22   He asks a question. I wonder if he has an answer himself.
01:29   The problem is, of course, that Twitter, and there are many other examples,
01:32   are of course companies that make their own policies, that say yea or nay,
01:38   and that, moreover, are headquartered outside the Netherlands.
01:42   Does the VVD have ideas about how to deal with this?
01:46   Mr Middendorp.
01:50   What I would suggest, Speaker, is that we just apply current law to the online world.
02:00   That means that freedom of expression is the most important thing, and calls to violence.
02:08   constitute an exception.
02:13   And I think that Mr Bosma, to anticipate his next question, has in mind the gray area,
02:21   namely, when is something a call to violence, when can the freedom of expression
02:27   be constrained, as Twitter did in this case?
02:33   The VVD feels it should not be the government, and definitely not
02:38   the shareholder of a tech company, so we ask the minister
02:43   to reflect on her opinion on this. —Thank you. Mr Bosma? —Well, that’s not the question.
02:47   The question is, if this is how we all feel, which I think is the case, how can we
02:53   make the company Twitter, which is headquartered where, in Cupertino California or thereabouts?
02:57   — in a very different country, with very different norms and values,
03:00   and Silicon Valley is as left-wing as it gets.
03:03   How can we make sure that Dutch norms and values are respected by such an American tech company?
03:10   That would appear difficult. —Mr Middendorp.
03:13   Well, Speaker, that is indeed rather difficult.
03:17   But I think that we should not simply accept that there’s somebody
03:21   in Cupertino, California who is difficult to reach.
03:26   Because if I say here [quoting Wilders’ tweet]: “Let us stand up
03:30   against the suckers of D66, who leave the borders open,
03:34   import more, more Islam and then cry crocodile tears etc,”
03:37   and the company that supplied this microphone turns it off, then I think we have a problem.
03:43   So I believe that I asked the minister exactly what she thinks about that grey area,
03:50   and how we are going to make the line between free speech and calls to violence clear online.
03:59   I don’t think that I have a clear answer for Mr Bosma.
04:02   Thank you. —Mr Speaker, I’m shocked. The definition that GreenLeft uses for
04:08   disinformation / fake news is manipulated news from an unclear source.
04:14   GreenLeft also came up with a plan: if I understand correctly,
04:18   the council for elections has to evaluate political ads,
04:22   and has to decide whether something is allowed to be posted or not.
04:29   The council for elections, which has a very different role in our democracy,
04:35   has to decide whether a political ad is factual or not. Did I get that right?
04:42   Madam Özütok.
04:46   Yes, that’s about right. That is indeed a different role,
04:50   A different task. at this moment I see a shortcoming.
04:54   when it comes to control and enforcement in that area.
04:59   The Ministry of Internal Affairs could maybe also do this,
05:03   but I think the council could be transformed
05:07   just as well; I think the minister is already working on this.
05:12   It’s an idea, I wonder what your opinion is on this? —Mr Bosma.
05:18   Well, I’m against it. But. I smell the roots of GreenLeft,
05:22   namely 90 years of the Communist Party Netherlands,
05:27   part of international communism, a totalitarian party, fiercely opposed to
05:31   freedom in the Netherlands, a party that has reinvented itself,
05:36   and now proposes to transform not only the council,
05:39   but as it now turns out, also the Ministry of Internal Affairs,
05:42   into an organisation that has to decide which political ad is allowed to be posted and
05:46   which isn’t. Well, the minister isn’t exactly beaming with enthusiasm,
05:51   but I break out in a cold sweat at the thought that civil servants,
05:55   with all due respect, have to decide
05:58   which political ads are allowed to be published in the Netherlands.
06:02   That is not a country I’d want to live in. And I’d like to ask
06:06   the GreenLeft lady to ease up on her communist roots, and
06:10   just choose freedom again, so that citizens can decide whether a political ad is truthful or not.
06:16   Madam Özütok.
06:22   Yes, I’m proud of my roots, let me start by saying that.
06:27   And it could be citizens, it could be the citizens’ council that exercises control.
06:31   What I find is that there’s a shortcoming in this area,
06:36   that the freedom of all these tech companies when it comes to influencing
06:40   is [too] large. I’m looking for options
06:44   to exert some kind of control. And my idea can be exchanged for any
06:49   better idea, but I haven’t heard any from you.
06:55   Thank you. I now give the floor to Mr Bosma of the PVV.
06:59   Thank you, Mr Speaker. This was the holy struggle,
07:03   this minister’s holy war against what she called fake news.
07:07   It started with three pages in [the newspaper] De Telegraaf full of alarmist talking points, about
07:12   fake news that allegedly undermined the democratic rule of law, and, I quote, “an uninterrupted
07:16   stream of disinformation coming from Russia.”
07:21   So what was this fake news? We heard the minister say my party [PVV] makes a contribution
07:24   in that area. —[Öztürk, DENK party] That’s correct. —But D66 claimed DENK peddles
07:27   fake news, apparently everybody was involved. [DENK hired trolls, designed ads to smear Wilders]
07:33   What is it? Well, Hugo de Jong, our vice-PM, gave the answer. He said minister Ollongren
07:38   would without doubt give some examples, I repeat, without doubt.
07:44   The only example we were given was a fake Russian website.
07:48   An EU expert group against disinformation would be set up,
07:52   with Madam de Cock Buning as president; never heard from that again.
07:56   Parliament made an important motion to stop with the “EU vs. disinformation”,
08:00   a shady EU group that was supposed to monitor the Internet.
08:05   That motion was ignored. In many debates, I and some others have grilled the minister,
08:10   to force examples and a definition out of her, of what this fake news is exactly.
08:16   In the end she came up with “unwanted foreign interference by state actors”. OK.
08:22   The only example we were offered was that the Russian ambassador
08:25   had said something about MH17 that was false.
08:28   I thought it was the job of an ambassador to defend his country, but apparently that was fake news.
08:33   In the minister’s recent campaign, the aim of the purveyor of fake news is to create unrest,
08:38   which is a completely new [definition]. We learned it can also be a prank.
08:44   and its purpose can also be to make money. In short, the goalposts shift;
08:49   we don’t know what the danger is exactly, but we have to fight these windmills.
08:55   Then there’s the letter from 14 June which says, and I quote: evaluation of recent elections.
09:03   Nothing to suggest that during our elections,
09:07   state actors spread disinformation on a large scale. OK.
09:11   So Mr Speaker, to conclude: no examples, no proof, lots of hot air,
09:16   scare tactics, panic-mongering, posturing, a little populism.
09:22   In short Mr Speaker, nothing at all. —Mr Öztürk would like to interrupt.
09:27   [Öztürk, in broken Dutch:] Yes, it’s very odd, Mr Speaker, but the PVV lost the last two elections.
09:32   I don’t know if there are any effects. In the elections that the minister
09:37   says the Russians intervened in, the PVV did reasonably well.
09:43   [laughs] The elections, the last two, when there apparently
09:47   wasn’t any interference, the PVV got zero seats in Europe.
09:51   and barely any seats in provincial elections, so, I don’t know, but… —And your question?
09:56   Maybe Mr Bosma knows the answer [more?] about that. —Mr Speaker,
10:01   I’m overjoyed that Mr Öztürk is still with us, because he almost had a seat in the Senate.
10:07   That’s not an answer! That’s not an answer! —But Group Erdogan [DENK]
10:11   won so few seats in provincial elections that Öztürk is still with us.
10:15   That’s not an answer! That’s not an answer! —If that is the outcome of interference
10:19   by any intelligence service, then I’d almost find said service sympathetic.
10:22   [Speaker:] This is turning into a very special little debate. Uhm. —Not an answer! [giggles]
10:29   Mr Bosma, I think you gave a proper answer. —[Bosma] I’m glad I have your support, Mr Speaker.
10:34   Well, in the sense that you offered an answer, let me put it that way.
10:37   I suggest that you carry on, unless Mr Öztürk wants to
10:40   extend his interruption, but this will limit the options of other members of the committee.
10:45   Well, look, I am trying to find a connection between what
10:49   Mr Bosma is saying, and factual information.
10:54   All I’ve mentioned are facts. Mr Bosma drags things into this discussion
10:58   that are irrelevant, in order to defend himself. This has nothing to do
11:02   with me or other countries, it’s simply a fact that there was Russian interference.
11:06   We gave information that there were hundreds of thousands
11:09   of Twitter messages supporting the PVV,
11:12   and in connection with that I’m asking: did this influence
11:15   the result? The last time we didn’t see that.
11:18   So let’s talk about this in an open and honest way, Mr Bosma. Tell us honestly,
11:22   did it have any effect or not? —Mr Bosma.
11:25   Mr Speaker, Mr Öztürk says there was Russian interference. I haven’t seen any evidence of that.
11:31   If I apply GreenLeft’s definition of fake news, if you manipulate information and
11:35   the source is not clear, then Mr Öztürk is now spreading fake news,
11:40   because I’d like to know what his sources are, but he doesn’t have any. —I do too!
11:46   I appreciate that Mr Öztürk. —Mr Öztürk is trying to say something, so undoubtedly
11:51   he will contribute to the discussion later. I suggest you continue.
11:56   Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the period leading up to elections,
12:00   the minister started a campaign to raise awareness,
12:04   very amateurish, “”, Mr Speaker. One cringes when reading it.
12:10   It says: “Don’t believe everything you read online, check the source.”
12:16   Citizens are talked down to, like toddlers.
12:20   Which is typical of D66’s culture, it’s only to be expected.
12:24   The letter dated May 14 states, if I understand it correctly,
12:28   the campaign will be evaluated. I didn’t see any criteria.
12:31   How will that campaign, which cost millions, be evaluated? What will
12:36   the criteria be? What are the conditions for success, Mr Speaker?
12:41   The war on free speech is, regarding fake news, coming to an end.
12:46   Because that was the hidden agenda behind the war on fake news.
12:51   The voices that left-liberal elites don’t like to hear had to be silenced.
12:59   That war has now moved to Twitter and Facebook,
13:03   and now we see the return of the concept of “hate speech”,
13:07   and we see that conservative voices, nationalist voices, are silenced on these media.
13:14   One after another is banned from Twitter, in the US but also the Netherlands.
13:19   Mr Middendorp touched on this, but the question I asked Mr Middendorp
13:25   I’d really like to ask the minister.
13:31   It is a difficult question, and I admit I have no immediate answer, but how do we guarantee
13:37   that our Dutch notion of freedom of expression is not violated on these media?
13:43   How do we guarantee this? I don’t know, but the minister is educated on this subject; it is her
13:47   trade, so I’d like to give her the floor to answer this question.