Publicis’ Levy says social media firms must not decide who has the right to speak

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Social media companies alone must not be able to decide who has the right to speak, according to the chair of one of the world’s largest advertising giants, citing what he described as the “debatable” example of the crackdown on former President Donald Trump.

Maurice Levy, chairman of the supervisory board at Publicis, said on Thursday that it was important to recognize the scale and complexity of managing the future of online safety.

He praised social media companies for adopting a “more active role” in rooting out harmful content on their platforms in recent years, saying they were no longer “in denial” over the need to do so.

However, he questioned the action taken against Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump was banned permanently by Twitter and suspended indefinitely by Facebook, with a string of other tech companies also taking steps to restrict his reach on their platforms.

“It is interesting to see that as long as he was president and despite the fact that he was issuing messages which were not really very accurate, very true and very honest, they have not done anything,” Levy told CNBC’s Karen Tso via videoconference at the virtual Davos Agenda summit.

“It is just that when he was a lame-duck that they decided that, yes, they will act — which is something that is debatable,” he continued. “I believe that when it comes to the authority of who should be speaking and who should not be speaking, we should not let them alone be making the decision.”

‘Dangerous’ precedent

Twitter has defended its decision to permanently suspend Trump’s account.

The social media company said in a statement published on Jan. 8 that the move was taken “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” adding that Trump’s tweets relating to the Capitol riots had violated its rules on glorifying violence.

Separately, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has since said he “did not celebrate or feel pride” in having to ban Trump’s account. He also warned the move “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous.”

The logos of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok displayed on a computer screen.

Denis Charlet | AFP via Getty Images

Publicis’ Levy said rules should be the custodian for the future of online safety, adding that he believed there should be a third party to help eliminate and correct hateful content.

“We believe that the platforms have a role but they should not be alone, that there should be a third party that cannot decide who has the right to speak and who (does) not have the right to speak,” Levy said.



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