Big Tech Must Be Reined in With Anti-Censorship Rules, Polish PM Says

National governments risk losing control of their countries unless they take action to break up the monopolies of tech giants, according to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who says his administration is "determined" to take them on.

Poland is among the nations seeking to claw back power from corporate tech giants, which lawmakers across the world have warned now have an outsized and inappropriate influence on the global political zeitgeist.

"Today, who sets these rules is really the master of destiny for society and for nation-states," Morawiecki told Newsweek during an interview in Warsaw, of which a full transcript is published.

"So today, platforms and communication networks and intellectual property are even more important than the land and the buildings and the technology assembly lines and all the materials that go into creating these digital realms."

Morawiecki and his Law and Justice Party (PiS) have been in the vanguard of governments pushing for new legislation to address the perceived imbalance. Earlier this year, the Polish government proposed a new law that would allow officials to fine social media giants for removing posts deemed offensive from their platforms.

The draft legislation—still being worked on in parliament, Morawiecki said—would also allow users to appeal to a Free Speech Council if their content is removed. If social media companies are found to have removed posts that do not break Polish law, they could face a fine of up to $13.35 million.

Morawiecki told Newsweek that a new approach is needed to protect government power and societal well-being in an economic, political, and social environment transformed by the internet and social media.

"These dynamics do not make it easier to grasp the elements of the moving parts of the complicated interdependent economic jigsaw puzzle that is our modern age," the prime minister said of the power wielded by tech giants.

"And this is why it is so much more difficult to understand who sets the rules today, because it is no longer the governments that can have this competence over the setting of the rules.

"Huge international corporations in the area of the digital world, in particular, are setting the rules very often that are suitable for themselves, which may not always be a social good.

"This is another form of dominance over the rest of the sectors they operate in, but it may also create dominance over other areas of the lives of citizens in a society.

"And this is why states should now be very active in eliminating censorship and eliminating monopolistic powers of those companies, as well. And this is one of the reasons we started to work on this anti-censorship regulation."

But PiS critics see another motive. The nationalist government's opponents have accused it of seeking to muzzle Poland's independent media and smother criticism of its conduct. For its part, PiS has long argued that foreign owners and companies have too much influence over national media.

The new social media legislation was announced in January shortly after the state-run oil refiner PKN Orlen said it was buying German-owned regional newspaper publisher Polska Press.

Critics said the deal was part of the government's efforts to expand its control over national media. A court ruled in April that approval for the deal should be suspended.

The Polish government's social media push puts it in league with the Republican Party in the U.S. and former President Donald Trump, who have long complained of alleged suppression of conservative voices by tech giants.

Elsewhere in Europe, the right-wing Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seeking to limit the power of tech platforms. In February, Justice Minister Judit Varga said she would introduce legislation to "regulate the domestic operations of large tech companies."

Varga claimed that social media companies "limit the visibility of Christian, conservative, rightwing opinions" and suggested that "power groups behind global tech giants" have the power to influence national elections.

The Hungarian government regularly rails against George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish American billionaire philanthropist and liberal activist who funds progressive organizations.

Orban critics say his focus on Soros—one shared by conservatives in America and Poland—is anti-Semitic, while Soros critics in Hungary and Poland decry the billionaire's external influence on their national politics.

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said earlier this year that the government wanted to protect conservatives.

"We see that anonymous social media moderators often censor opinions which do not violate the law but are just criticism of leftists' agenda," he told the Financial Times. "This creates important risks of infringing freedom of speech."

Of Trump's Facebook ban—recently extended to two years—Kaleta said the move was "a form of censorship," though said this had no impact on the Polish government's legislative plans.

Morawiecki told Newsweek the Polish legislation "is still being cooked in the Polish parliament, by the Polish government working through the domestic legislature, but we are quite determined for this to work—either together with Brussels, or on our own to go ahead with this if need be."

He continued: "We are in discussion with the European Commission in two aspects of this area. One is vis-à-vis the freedom of speech and eliminating censorship issue.

"The other one is in taxing companies where they do business—so not letting them go to tax havens like Luxembourg or Cyprus or Switzerland, and not paying taxes at all or very little taxes paid in these other tax haven countries, because I think that Big Tech companies minimizing their tax burden this way is not sustainable for our economies."

Mateusz Morawiecki Polish PM pictured in Brussels
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he departs at the end of the first day of the EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium on May 24, 2021. FRANCISCO SECO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images