European Union regulators have fired another warning shot at Elon Musk over his erratic piloting of Twitter since taking over last month – saying he has a “huge job” ahead of him if he wants the social media site to avoid falling foul of major new rules governing digital services that went into effect earlier this month.
Reminder: Violations of the EU Digital Services Act (DSA) can result in fines of up to 6% of global annual turnover.
Since getting his hands on the bird, Musk has fired the top team and made it a priority to cut Twitter’s workforce — with reports of 50 percent cuts earlier this month and further layoffs (including a large number of contractors). He also reversed the previous administration’s ban on former US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account and proposed a blanket amnesty for accounts previously suspended for violating his policies — all the while engaging in public lobbying with a small group of mostly of far-right Twitter accounts, prompting him to tear down the content moderation systems and policies the company had painstakingly built for years.
The change in ownership at Twitter has also resulted in the departure of a number of senior compliance, security, privacy, and trust and security staff within a few short weeks. There’s also been a stream of users leaving for other social media platforms — protesting the direction Musk is taking the site and a resurgence of toxicity and abuse since he took over, causing Twitter advertisers to cool off amid concerns about brand safety.
So the EU’s assessment that Musk-owned Twitter has its work cut out for it to comply with the DSA isn’t exactly rocket science.
The announcement of the outcome of today’s meeting between Musk and EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton – who received a “thumbs up” in May from the billionaire who verbally endorsed the bloc’s plan to regulate the internet, that the EU is persistently interpreting as a bona fide commitment to comply with the DSA — The EU said Breton told Musk that Twitter would need to significantly increase its efforts if it wanted to pass the assessment.
In a statement attributed to Breton after the meeting, the commissioner said (Breton’s emphasis):
“I welcome Elon Musk’s statements about his intention to prepare Twitter 2.0 for DSA. I’m glad to hear that he’s read it carefully and thinks it’s a reasonable approach to implement globally. But let’s also be clear that there is still a lot of work ahead, as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly strengthen content moderation and protect freedom of speech, crack down on disinformation and limit targeted advertising. All this requires sufficient artificial intelligence and human resources, both in scale and skills. I look forward to progress in all of these areas and we will assess Twitter’s readiness on the ground.”
The DSA will come into force on February 17 next year for larger platforms (so-called ‘very large online platforms’; or VLPs) — which also face additional obligations, including assessing and mitigating risks on their platforms under the regulation.
This means that larger platforms only have a few months to prepare to demonstrate compliance or risk enforcement by the European Commission. For the other services covered, the DSA will start to apply in early 2024 – and enforcement will be the responsibility of the Member States’ authorities and not the Commission itself.
It is not yet clear whether Twitter will be flagged as a BURGLARY. But as we reported last week, the EU executive reacted with concern to reports of further redundancies, including the complete closure of the Brussels office – and warned that the “adequacy” of resources was one of the factors it would consider in its decision. which platforms are designated as VLOP and therefore face an accelerated compliance timeline, additional requirements and increased regulatory risk.
V fast As Twitter posted on its official blog today, the company said it remains committed to its existing policies — but said its approach to policy enforcement will “rely more on de-amplifying infringing content,” calling it “free speech, but not freedom of reach’.
Earlier this week, it also emerged that the platform had stopped enforcing its policy against misleading information about COVID-19 last week – leaving unsubstantiated claims that could endanger public health to circulate freely.
The Commission was quick to describe Twitter’s decision to drop prosecution of misleading tweets about COVID-19 as regrettable – underscoring that the pandemic is far from over and warning that measures to combat disinformation will be an important component of achieving compliance with the DSA.
The episode raises questions about what EU regulators will say about wildly disingenuous claims Musk has made — such as that “no Twitter policy has changed” — when an unchanged policy that is no longer enforced is a de facto drastic change policies.
The question is whether the EU, in its role as DSA implementer, will take an official vague opinion on such apparent contradictions – and find a violation of the regulation. Or blink and let the billionaire run away giggling as he ignores their rules.
In an interview yesterday at the Knight Foundation conference covered by Reuters, Twitter’s head of trust and security, Yoel Roth, warned that the company is no safer under Musk – with far fewer staff enforcing his policies. He said his own decision to leave Twitter after a few weeks with Musk at the helm came after the company began to move away from adhering to written and publicly available policies — to content decisions that it made unilaterally accepted by the self-proclaimed ‘Chief Twit’. “One of my limitations was if Twitter becomes ruled by a dictatorial edict rather than politics … there’s no longer a need for me in my role to do what I’m doing,” he said.
The EU will soon have to decide on Musk’s approach to politics.
Some might say that Musk is already trolling the EU with empty claims of “DSA compliance” while liquidating the resources needed to achieve compliance. At least he seems to be testing the terrain to see what he can get away with.
The EU, having read Breton’s working meeting with Musk, does call it “constructive” – but that could just be trolling the EU with Musk at this point (he actually got a meeting and a date in the diary for another? win!) – as he writes, that the two “agreed” that Commission services would conduct a stress test at Twitter’s headquarters in early 2023.
Ergo, the EU is already gearing up to test Musk (and stress test his compliance claims). Which means it’s getting accelerated ‘special attention’ from the newly appointed internet sheriff. (Frankly, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg needs to count his blessings for Musk landing his poison patch.)
The commission said this stress test would allow Twitter to “target compliance even before statutory deadlines and prepare for a comprehensive independent audit such as the DSA provides”. Translation: Get your house in order quickly — because we’ll be back for the bills.
It will be interesting to see if Musk continues to shrug his shoulders — or finally get serious — about all these increasingly strident noises from regulators.
If the former, it could get the final bill for Musk’s ownership of Twitter a lot more expensive.