After giving him the benefit of the doubt, the European Union shows its teeth against Elon Musk’s Twitter. On Wednesday, Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, spoke with the American billionaire by videoconference, and gave the points on the i: if Twitter does not respect the European rules on moderation, it will be banned in Europe.
Thierry Breton also made it very clear to Elon Musk that the European Union believes that the blue bird is heading towards banishment if he continues on this path. ” There’s still a lot of work to do, as Twitter will need to implement transparent usage policies, dramatically strengthen content moderation, protect free speech, resolutely fight misinformation, and limit targeted advertising. “, did he declare. The Frenchman also told Elon Musk that Twitter needs ” sufficient human and technical capacities to comply with future European rules “, in reference to the layoffs and resignations which affected more than 80% of the company’s workforce in less than a month, including most of the moderation teams, as well as the Twitter office in Brussels.
The upcoming European rule mentioned by Thierry Breton essentially refers to the Digital Services Act, a new regulation passed last year which considerably strengthens the obligations of platforms in terms of moderating hateful content and combating misinformation, and provides for substantial sanctions. in case of shortcomings.
Huge work ahead still — as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and tackle disinformation.
Looking forward to seeing progress in all these areas. pic.twitter.com/Nc7sGlb9YL
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) November 30, 2022
EU sees red following Elon Musk’s decision to stop fighting Covid-19 disinformation
The European Commission expects Elon Musk to act quickly. At the beginning of 2023, she will conduct a “stress test” at Twitter’s premises to check what the social network is really doing and monitor its progress. ” Mr. Musk seems to want a lot of attention. I think he was successful in getting regulators’ attention. […] In my opinion, Twitter is now high on the list of regulators’ concerns. “, told our colleagues from Politico Věra Jourová, the Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency.
The European Commission particularly did not appreciate the deliberate abandonment, decided by Elon Musk, of the fight against disinformation linked to Covid-19. In a statement released on November 29, the social network said: “As of November 23, 2022, Twitter no longer enforces the policy regarding misleading information about Covid-19. » However, like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, Twitter had put in place specific rules during the pandemic to fight against fake news about health. In particular, she had to report and remove misinformation messages about vaccines, and suspend accounts that relay false information after five warnings.
This commitment by the platforms had however proved to be largely insufficient to contain false information on the pandemic. But it was a union minimum that Twitter has now decided to drop, in the name of an absolutist conception of freedom of expression dear to Elon Musk, only shared today by the fachosphere, by the fringe the most radical of the American Republican party, as well as by anarchists and libertarians. Following this decision by Twitter, the French Minister for the Digital Transition, Jean-Noël Barrot, also expressed his annoyance. “ Misinformation on Covid-19 and vaccination now freely available on Twitter. One more milestone is reached in irresponsibility », he tweeted.
Another cause for concern for the EU: the return last weekend of 62,000 accounts previously banned by the platform, including many purveyors of misinformation. Most are followed by thousands of accounts, and a handful even boast several million followers. This decision, taken following a simple online survey on Elon Musk’s account, follows the reinstatement of Donald Trump on the social network, via the same method.
Elon Musk says his vision of freedom of expression includes respect for the law, but the former president of the United States was banned from all major social networks for calling his supporters to the insurrection on the day of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol, which is illegal. US administration investigations have concluded that the former president did play an active role, leading a majority of elected House of Representatives, including 10 Republicans, to vote for impeachment.impeachment“) by Donald Trump on January 13, 2021, a week before the end of his term, for “calling for insurrection”. But Elon Musk still reinstated the former president.
Little room for maneuver in the short and medium term
On the form, the European Union has therefore decided to change its tone to adopt the greatest firmness with regard to Elon Musk. Problem: its room for maneuver is actually quite limited in the short term. the Digital Services Act (DSA) will be really very restrictive for all platforms including Twitter, but the regulation will not come into force until 2024, at best.
However, the current legislation will not be enough for the EU to ban Twitter by the application of the DSA. Because the code of conduct applicable to platforms concerning disinformation is now based on voluntary action. Moreover, fake news about vaccines or the pandemic is not illegal per se under freedom of expression, if it does not fall under the scope of insult, incitement to hatred or defamation. In other words, disinformation remains, until the application of the DSA, in a gray area of the law that Elon Musk could benefit from for at least another good year.
And again: if the DSA does come into effect in 2024, we do not yet know if it will be at the beginning or end of the year… Not to mention that the entry into force of this type of regulation, because it imposes compliance, which can be cumbersome and costly for the players concerned, is generally accompanied by an adaptation period of at least one year. This was the case with the GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation: it came into force in May 2018 with a one-year compliance period. And then it takes many months before a complaint leads to a sanction. If the DSA therefore comes into force in the second half of 2024 and there is a one-year compliance period, Twitter could not be sanctioned in the event of a serious breach before the end of 2025 or even 2026.
However, this does not mean that the EU has no leverage. Aggressive statements and pressure for compliance are one of them. The second is to remind Twitter that it signed a Code of Conduct on Disinformation in 2018, amended in 2022, which includes including resources to reduce the publication of fake news and stop its spread.