DAVOS 2021: One of advertising's most powerful people says social media 'cannot decide who has the right to speak'

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Maurice Levy, chair of Publicis. Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Maurice Levy, chair of Publicis. Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Online platforms “cannot decide who has the right to speak,” according to the head of one of the world’s biggest advertising and public relations companies.

Maurice Levy, head of advertising giant Publicis (PUB.PA) became the latest public figure to sound the alarm over tech companies silencing former US president Donald Trump after the storming of the Capitol.

Trump was banned permanently by Twitter and suspended indefinitely by Facebook, with other tech giants also seeking to limit his reach.

Levy said platforms were no longer in “denial” over the need to moderate content, and praised them for taking up a “more active role” in recent years.

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But he told a panel event at the Davos Agenda 2021 summit on Thursday: “Who should be the custodian? We believe the platforms have a role, but they should not be alone. They cannot decide who has the right to speak, and who does not have the right to speak.

He said platforms should eliminate and correct “hatred” online, but added of recent decisions on Trump: “It’s interesting to see that as long as he was president, despite the fact he was issuing messages which were not really very accurate, very true and very honest, they have not done anything.

“It’s just when he was a lame duck that hey decided yes, they will act. Which is something that is debatable.”

Levy acknowledged the challenges facing platforms, however. “We must recognise that harmful content is huge, complex and difficult to manage.”

He said there were “hundreds of millions” of hateful, violent or inappropriate messages for companies to monitor and act on.

He added: “We want advertising money of our clients going to a safe environment.”

Asked about who else should have a role in tackling online harm, he said efforts by the US and EU authorities were “in the right direction.”

He also highlighted third parties like NewsGuard, which rates news sites with a traffic light system about the trustworthiness of news.

Twitter defended its decision to ban Trump on the grounds of the “risk of further incitement of violence,” saying his tweets over the Capitol riots had violated its rules on glorifying violence.

WATCH: Twitter suspends Trump permanently