Self-proclaimed free speech warrior Elon Musk’s more unfettered version of Twitter could collide with new European rules, as officials warn the company must comply with its laws targeting toxic content.
While the new digital rulebook means the European Union is likely to be a global leader in cracking down on Elon Musk’s reimagined platform, the 27-nation bloc will face its own challenges forcing Twitter and other online companies to comply.
The law doesn’t fully take effect until 2024, and EU officials are scrambling to recruit enough workers to hold Big Tech to account.
Known as the Digital Services Act, the EU’s sweeping set of rules aims to make platforms and search engines more accountable for illegal and harmful content, including hate speech, scams and disinformation.
They’ll kick in next summer for the biggest digital companies like Google, Facebook and TikTok and then expand to all online services the following year.
Those standards are poised to run up against Musk’s whipsawing policies at Twitter. He has abruptly axed a group of advisers who addressed problems like hate speech, child exploitation and self-harm, halved Twitter’s workforce and issued conflicting decisions about content moderation.
“A lot can change in six months, but it sure seems like Twitter is lining up to be Europe’s first major test case when it comes to enforcing the DSA,” said John Albert of Berlin-based AlgorithmWatch, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.
Musk has called for “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” saying he wants to downgrade negative and hateful posts.
The billionaire Tesla CEO considers the bloc’s rules “a sensible approach to implement on a worldwide basis,” EU digital policy chief Thierry Breton recounted after a video call with Musk this month.
READ MORE: EU's review of Twitter content shows 'a worrying trend'
Major design changes pose risk
Twitter’s disastrous rollout of paid “verified” blue checks likely would have triggered an EU investigation and possibly hefty fines because such significant design changes wouldn’t be allowed without a risk assessment, Albert said.
The premium service was abandoned last month after a flood of imposter accounts spread disinformation. It relaunched this week.
The abrupt disbanding of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council also would “raise some eyebrows in Brussels,” Albert said.
Expert advisers aren’t required under the EU rules, but “good-faith voluntary efforts” show “European regulators that you care about transparency and are invested in trust and safety,” he said.
Musk’s tinkering — including dropping enforcement of Covid-19 misinformation rules and granting amnesty to suspended accounts — has already alarmed European officials.
Musk’s approach is “a big issue” that calls for “more regulation,” French President Emmanuel Macron told ‘Good Morning America’.
In Europe, he said, “you can demonstrate free speech, you can write what you want. But there are responsibilities and limits,” he said. Macron, who met with Musk in the US this month, tweeted that “efforts have to be made by Twitter to comply with European regulations”.
Meanwhile, Breton, the EU’s digital policy chief, said he reminded Musk about the penalties for violations, including fines worth 6 percent of global annual revenue that could reach billions.
Repeat violations could result in an EU-wide ban. Musk and Twitter didn’t respond to messages seeking comments.
READ MORE: EU warns Musk: Twitter must abide by bloc’s content moderation rules