Poland proposes social media ‘free speech’ law to make censoring hateful content illegal

Poland justice minister

The government of Poland has proposed a new law to stop social media platforms deleting posts or banning users who spread hateful content.

The “freedom of speech protection” bill was announced on Friday (15 January) by justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, whose hard-right nationalist party claims that traditional Roman Catholic values are under threat from LGBT+ rights.

The proposed bill would see social networks fined up to 50 million zloty (£9.8m, $13.4m) for failing to restore deleted posts or accounts from users.

“Algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not,” wrote prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Facebook, declaring his support for the bill. “There can be no consent to censorship.”

While Morawiecki did not directly mention Donald Trump in his post, the move is likely triggered by the shutdown of Trump’s social media accounts, which was strongly criticised by several high-ranking Polish officials.

Morawiecki continued by indirectly comparing social media companies taking decisions to remove accounts with Poland’s experience during the communist era.

“The censorship of free speech, which is the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is now returning in the form of a new, commercial mechanism to combat those who think differently,” he claimed.

“Often, the victims of ideological censorship are also representatives of various groups operating in Poland, whose content is removed or blocked just because they express views and refer to values that are unacceptable.”

Under the proposed bill, a newly-established “freedom of speech council” would intervene with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to restore deleted content or unblock a user’s account following a review.

The Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper reports that the prime minister is also planning to lobby the European Union to regulate online censorship, as he believes his domestic regulations could be ineffective without EU backing.

It’s yet another troubling sign of Poland’s continuing swing towards right-wing nationalism, which has seen over a third of the country pitted against liberal values by declaring itself “LGBT-free”.