Paddy Cosgrave withdraws Web Summit invitation to Marine Le Pen having earlier defended it

Web Summit founder rows back on Le Pen invitation ‘based on advice’

‘Freedom of expression is a fundamental right,’ says Paddy Cosgrave. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

‘Freedom of expression is a fundamental right,’ says Paddy Cosgrave. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave has rescinded an invitation to far right politician Marine Le Pen to this year’s conference.

In a series of tweets, Mr Cosgrave said that “based on advice we have received on the large reaction online overnight, her presence is disrespectful in particular to our host country.”

The summit, which takes place from November 5th to 8th in Lisbon, claims to be the world’s largest tech event and to have more than 1,000 speakers in Portugal over the course of the week. The Web Summit departed Dublin under a cloud two years ago citing capacity issues as one of a number of problems .

Marine Le Pen from France’s far-right National Front (FN) party. File photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA
Marine Le Pen from France’s far-right National Front (FN) party. File photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

“The issue of hate, freedom of expression and platform technologies is one of the defining questions of 2018. We will redouble our efforts to approach this difficult issue at Web Summit with more care,” Mr Cosgrave added.

“At Web Summit, we are ambitious to be a recognised platform for rigorous debate. In recent years, we’ve added dedicated private and public stages specifically for robust dialogue on contentious and defining issues of our time. But we’ve still much to learn.

“We welcome any suggestions as to who might be appropriate and also inappropriate to speak on a whole range of issues affecting society and technology.”

Earlier he defended his decision to invite Ms Le Pen, the president of the National Front in France, to the conference.

Writing a blog post on Medium, Mr Cosgrave said in his view Ms Le Pen’s views were “wrongheaded”, but said it was important that the Web Summit did not “shirk robust debate”.

“We have have chosen not to [BAN LE PEN]because we believe banning or attempting to ignore these views, which have been fanned in our view by technology, does little to furthering understanding,” he said.

“More importantly perhaps, banning or attempting to ignore these views is unlikely to help address the roots of the rise in support for these views across parts of Europe in particular.”

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right within the European Union and a basic cornerstone of any democratic society,” he said.

Nigel Farage

Ms Le Pen reached the second round of voting in the French presidential elections in 2017, running a far-right campaign focused on anti-immigration, before she was defeated by Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, Mr Cosgrave invited Nigel Farage to the Web Summit and wrote that Farage articulated “viewpoints, however offensive to some, that resonate with a sizeable and by many accounts growing portion of not just the western world”.

“I think they have a place alongside leftist trade union leaders, socialist prime ministers, anarchist hackers, big corporate lobbyists and more,” he said.

He added that should the Portuguese government ask the Web Summit to cancel Marine Le Pen’s invitation that they would “of course respect that request and immediately do so.”

The Irish-founded tech conference started in Ireland in 2009 with fewer than 400 attendees. Web Summit has continued to grow and now expects to attract about 70,000 attendees to this year’s event in November in Lisbon.