Belgian political caste, even with the systematic advance of the extreme left and right, seems blind to the enormous impact of Facebook on voters. On that platform PVDA and certainly Vlaams Belang spend a multitude of the traditional parties. But a war between Twitter and US President Trump is now threatening to explode in the face of Facebook, as well as extreme parties.
In the news: Trump is issuing an “executive order” that makes social media responsible for what they publish.
The details: A fight between Twitter and the president derails, and may have major consequences.
- This Tuesday was Twitter’s historical precedent. The company posted a tweet from Donald Trump, who incorrect information about voting by letter, below a link to the correct info.
- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also commented: “We will continue in the future Continue to question incorrect or disputed election information. And we will admit mistakes we make. ”
- But Trump reacted furiously: he would Twitter sometimes learn a lesson. Because according to a steamy president, who spoke of censorship, Twitter has crossed the Rubicon: “If Twitter starts fact-checking, they will de facto stop being a platform, and then different rules will apply.”
- Last night he announced his counter-move, which may have far more impact than he ever thought: via an “executive order” he wants make social media responsible for what they publish.
- Until now, companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have benefited from an exemption from that responsibility, as described in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. He sees social media as ordinary “distributors” of content, not as its producers, where “publishers” such as newspaper publishers, TV stations or news sites are.
What does this mean? “Platform or publisher“, The essential question.
- The discussion whether Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram, the so-called “platforms”, are responsible for the content that appears on them, has been going on for years. The big tech companies have so far fought tooth and nail to be and remain a ‘platform’.
- This is to the great anger of the “publishers” of this world: media companies and news editors, who everywhere create information, content, on which those platforms then become big, and collect traffic around. While the publishers are fighting to keep their content production affordable, and always approachable about what is being published, Facebook and Twitter have flocked billions in advertising income, and could get something there, including fake news.
- That fake news, which some have turned into a million-dollar business, within the commercial ecosystem of Facebook itself almost free job for years at Mark Zuckerberg.
- Increasingly, the big players themselves feel that their position, “we are not responsible”, is more difficult to maintain: on Facebook already live murders and packs of brutal violence, which led to sharp intervention in this area.
- But not for all content, and certainly not for political articles and videos. Facebook late eagerly for political parties and lobby organizations to advertise. Twitter has banned that for a while. But Trump’s decision is going to revolutionize how Facebook and Twitter work, with major economic and legal ramifications.
The effects: A fierce war between Twitter and Facebook, with the latter firmly on the side of Trump.
- It is not yet clear to what extent Trump’s executive order will be immediately enforceable, and whether legally persists. But it is quite clear that the impact of that decision can be very great, also for the president himself.
- Trump’s anger at Twitter’s intervention could be the most likely to explode in Facebook’s face: Trump, including as president, has been posting for years, all kinds of things on his own Facebook pagewithout Zuckerberg and his right hand Sheryl Sandberg ever intervening.
- On the contrary, Zuckerberg, who recently had lunch with the president, got behind Trump for the past 24 hours, attacking Dorsey and Twitter head-on. “Private companies just shouldn’t be in a position to be have to judge what is true and what is notZuckerberg said on Fox News. Zuckerberg easily ignored the fact that this is one of the essential tasks of the media sector, for the most part private companies.
- Perhaps the big Facebook boss was hoping Trump was watching Fox himself: he made a plea to stop the president’s “executive order”: “I think a government that would choose to censor platforms just because they are concerned about censorship on those platforms, would not exactly be the right reflex, ”said Zuckerberg. But Trump persevered, to the horror of the whole of Facebook, which is now with its hands in its hair.
- But Dorsey fired back. “We will continue to point out incorrect or controversial information about elections worldwide. That makes us no ‘arbitrator of truth“. Our intention is to refute false statements, and to display information so that people can judge for themselves, “he said on Twitter.
The most fascinating question for us: What about the political role of social media in Belgium and the consequences of this discussion?
- That Facebook, Twitter and increasingly Instagram are also political with us play a very relevant role, is kicking in an open door. All politicians are active in this, often using it as a channel to give their reactions, to spread their message, and to play on the public.
- The latter happens by “pushing” paid messages to users on Facebook: they suddenly get posts in their timeline that they normally wouldn’t see. Incidentally, in comparative studies that include publications on television, in newspapers or on radio, Facebook is by far the cheapest method for quickly reaching many people.
- Its impact on election results is very difficult to measure. But anyone who would think they are irrelevant is grossly mistaken. For example, friend and enemy had to admit that in the recent internal presidential elections of Open Vld, Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) with flying colors “won” on social media: he was much more present than rival Bart Tommelein (Open Vld), and also invested more people and resources in campaigns on Facebook. The result is known.
- Dive into the most recent lists of popular politicians “New names” such as Tom Van Grieken (Vlaams Belang), Peter Mertens (PVDA) and Conner Rousseau (sp.a) straight into the top five. Is it a coincidence that this trio belongs to the absolute top in Flanders of politicians who spend high amounts on their personal accounts to reach people?
- Of all the political parties, Vlaams Belang is by far the great champion of Facebook, with 557,800 likes on the party’s page and 464,000 likes on that of chairman Tom Van Grieken. They spend astronomical sums, a substantial part of the Interest party notation (which is generous for all parties in this country) is deposited in the paying system, especially in corona times, where everyone is staring at a screen at home:
- Vlaams Belang has been giving since March last year just over 1 million euros out on the party page to ads.
- The party gave again for chairman Tom Van Grieken 421,000 euros in the same period.
- Even a completely unknown European Member of Parliament such as Tom Vandendriessche (Vlaams Belang) already gave from his own resources almost 100,000 euros in that period.
- The other parties are there like a cow looking at a train, with the exception of the PVDA, which also appears to be willing to pay hundreds of thousands of euros to spend a capitalist American company, to spread the far left message.
- Not that N-VA, sp.a, Groen, Open Vld and CD&V do not have social media teams: every party, every minister even, has people who are specifically busy every day with what they can post and spread on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But the big difference is that they are not prepared to open their pouch considerably and systematically pumping hundreds of thousands of euros into Facebook’s system.
- For a number of Flemish parties it is also simply a matter of money: certainly after the last elections, most parties are in a shrinking scenario: they get less money, because they got fewer votes. They have study services, personnel, buildings: they can not suddenly free up one million euros in their budget for Facebook. Vlaams Belang did that under Van Grieken, and now even puts the turbo under it: this widens the gap on Facebook even further.
Where the shoe pinches: The “news” or the content that Vlaams Belang and PVDA advertise with is not always that pure.
- Extreme parties advertise so massively, even to such an extent they get their own “account” from Facebook: someone they can call directly with questions and problems. That is exceptional for a mastodon like Facebook, it underlines how much Zuckerberg and co would like to see those publications, Vlaams Belang or not.
- But there are regular reports of these Interest reports misinformation: news that has been turned or “reworked” in such a way that it is still quite far or completely off the mark.
- They use this original news sources, you cut the title or a passage, and it becomes “news”. A few recent examples:
- The “news” that Minister of Justice Koen Geens (CD&V) 1,200 detainees have been released through the corona crisis, figures from Het Nieuwsblad, which in reality were much lower.
- The message from De Tijd: “Belgium performed mouth masks despite a ban”, where all the context in the business newspaper disappeared.
- Regardless of whether newspapers and news sites have given permission to use their logo and titles at all in paid Facebook campaigns, there is the potential damage for those news brands: their ‘news’ suddenly becomes something completely different in the meat grinder.
- For years, politicians have announced that they want to do something. At European level, there are initiatives against fake news, but in practice hardly anything happens: fighting the frontal with Facebook over the question “publisher or platform‘, Which the European Commission has never done so far. But now that Trump is opening the door wide, people may also wake up in Brussels.
- Certainly the European media sector will eagerly face that discussion: if Facebook and Twitter are to become fully-fledged ‘publishers’, the whole discussion will immediately start in parallel with fake news about how much must be paid for original content from news editors erupt again. Now Facebook makes free use of what journalists around the world publish and what people in them timeline to post.
- Here, too, the discussion does not happen in vain. In Belgium, the government announced Michel in 2018 State of the Union, the government’s statement in the fall, that they would take an initiative against fake news. But that never happened, because the government fell over the Marrakech Pact in the autumn. And in the crisis of corona it is not exactly a priority, it seems.
Interesting to follow: An investigation committee or an ad hoc committee?
- Striking: while the Flemish Parliament has a ad hoc committee installs to investigate the approach in the corona crisis, but does not allow an investigation committee for the time being, a completely different sound can be heard federally.
- And even more striking: it is Groen, who delivers the chairman of the ad hoc committee with Flemish group leader Björn Rzoska, while Groen chairman Meyrem Almaci is federal just came up with a strong plea for a real investigation committee.
- Striking, because the latter committee has much more power to perform real investigative acts. PVDA and Vlaams Belang, who also insisted on such a solid instrument in the Flemish Parliament, were not heard. The majority there, of N-VA, CD&V and Open Vld, set foot, and in the end Groen and sp.a compromised: it thus became an ad hoc committee, but with Rzoska as chairman.
- “What we wanted in the Flemish Parliament was really an investigation to determine what went wrong and to establish responsibilities. We are still a priori in favor of such an investigation committee. But we also wanted a committee on several topics, the PVDA proposal was simply too limited. And that Rzoska is chairman is just the guarantee that you can go to the boneAlmaci said in front of the cameras of Villa Politica.
- The political reality is of course very different in the Chamber and in the Flemish Parliament: in that first hemisphere there is no majority, and can therefore no one to stop such an initiative of an inquiry committee. Several parties, from CDH to N-VA, have already said they want such a committee.
- But at the Flemish level, the The Flemish government, with its majority, has a firm grip on parliament. And although there are also critical voices within N-VA, Open Vld and even CD&V and its Flemish group, who certainly wanted a committee of inquiry, the government was frustrated.
- Several sources indicate that Deputy Prime Minister Hilde Crevits vetoed CD&V for such an investigation committee. Her colleague minister Wouter Beke (CD&V) is the one who can get into the most trouble with such an instrument. The fact that the committee will not be set up, even if that was explicitly asked by CD&V chairman Joachim Coens, is significant. “The internal pecking order has been demonstrated once in a while”, as can be heard in the corridors of the Flemish Parliament.
- In addition, the ad-hoc committee also starts with a clear message: “If on the way there are any worsening elements or too many questions, the committee can immediately transformed into a real investigation committee“, Said Rzoska right from the start. A number of majority MPs already seem to intend to play a role in this.
Inevitably: Education unions are angry and threaten to take action as schools reopen.
- Now that the lights are finally turning green to get thousands of students back to class, the unions react displeased. The socialist union ACOD itself sent a survey to its members. They would to a large extent “ready for action“Show.
- But the question is whether it will come to strikes. That would be right after months of no education, except through computer screens put the union directly against the parents.
- Either way, it’s getting hot. Because the Christian union is also pushing for its members to “demand a new risk analysis from the school if necessary”. “Every staff member who is confronted with a student in the class who does not wear a mask has every right not to get started. We will support them in every possible way, ”says COC boss Koen Van Kerkhoven in De Morgen.
- Hard language, for the first time since the crisis. Because until now, Ben Weyts (N-VA), Minister of Education, managed to keep his educational umbrella organizations, as well as the unions, on his side, with much consultation. That meant that he was not alone every time, each time the Flemish government asked for an acceleration to reopen education, in contrast to the south of the country, where the French Community government reacted much more slowly, and did not pre-teach for example.
- However, now that the stricter safety rules for education have been lifted, the teachers react through their unions with concern and anger. However, everything went together with the expert group of the GEES and chair Erika Vlieghe. That had extensive consultations with pediatricians.
- But all the adjustments are difficult, and the idea of suddenly re-entering full classes is apparently psychologically difficult. For example, the discussion about mouth masks in secondary education got off the rails a bit. First they were mandatory, then after Wednesday’s Consultation Committee they were “highly recommended” and again mandatory yesterday, but not during game time.
Interesting study: Belgians are pessimistic about the future of the country, especially Flemish Interest and PVDA voters.
- Not really surprising, but still: most Europeans are positive about their own future, but see their country’s negative. That optimism paradox is with all social groups, countries and ages. That is the conclusion of a pan-European survey of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
- Still 58 percent of EU citizens are optimistic about their future. In Germany, that jumps to 65 percent who are personally optimistic, while only 44 percent are about their country. The figures are the same in Spain. In Belgium, only 50 percent are personally optimistic: lower than the European average. Only France (61 percent pessimistic) and Italy (56 percent pessimistic) are doing worse.
- The Belgians are quite pessimistic about the future of their country: 64 percent is negative. Across the EU, the average is 58 percent. Only Italy (72 percent pessimistic) and France (69 percent pessimistic) are doing worse than Belgium.
- It is striking that this pessimistic view most common among voters of the extreme right across Europe. In France, Front National voters are 82 percent pessimistic. The Lega in Italy has 81 percent who are pessimistic about the country’s future. In Belgium, 65 percent of Vlaams Belang voters are pessimistic about their own future and even 78 percent about the future of their country.
- A particularly notable exception: the PVDA / PTB in Wallonia. “She is the only left-wing party in the entire study to attract so many pessimists, Says the study. 84 percent have a negative estimate about their own future, and the same figure about the future of Belgium.
An interesting idea: Should July 21, the national holiday, become a “moment of national mourning and togetherness”?
- Belgium has suffered a lot from the corona crisis. Who doubts the international comparisons and the figures, may have to check the European figures for excess mortality: not exactly nice for this country.
- Green wants to kill it not just pass silently. Party chairman Meyrem Almaci therefore wants to remind the deceased of the corona crisis on the national holiday. Their names would be read at a ceremony. Rather than waving flags and marching soldiers, now is the time to commemorate nationally.
- At the same time, Groen also wants to honor other heroes, instead of F-16s and armored vehicles: “The heroes who kept society running during the crisis“. Healthcare workers and logistics, but also “garbage collectors, postmen or cashiers, and the security services”, Groen says to Belga.
- “Now that the corona curve is going down and society is slowly restarting, it is time to reflect on the people who lost their lives and thank the heroes of this crisis. We propose that on July 21 a moment of national grief and togetherness to organize ”, says Almaci.