Elon Musk’s seizure of Twitter’s entire Brussels office puts him on a collision course with EU laws

Elon Musk plans to make a comeback Twitter Inc. to a free speech haven may encounter the biggest political obstacles in the European Union, where he must face the new Digital Services Act, which forces companies to remove illegal content.

Musk has said he will comply with national laws – and has specifically assured relevant EU officials that he will comply with the DSA – but this is difficult in practice the staff is small left to moderate content. It is not easy to make EU law capital of Brusselswhere the Twitter office no longer exists.

EU leaders know that Musk himself is a controversial speaker on Twitter – he is brought to court for defamation after he called a British caver a “pedo guy” (Musk won), the US SEC sued him for tweets about the takeover Tesla Inc private (Musk settled), he tweet a Nazi meme (it was later deleted), and posted false information about the attack on the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (also removed.)

While most if not all of these do not violate the DSA, it certainly made lawmakers wary of the possibility that they were signs of the future.

What new rules does Twitter have to follow in Europe?

A rule makes it a requirement for platforms like Twitter to remove content that is illegal in any of the EU bloc’s member states. For example, content promoting Nazism must be removed in Germany, where such speech is illegal. But it does not have to be taken across the Danish border, where there is none. Another rule is that platforms like Twitter must demonstrate to the European Commission, the executive arm of the bloc, that it has done an appropriate amount of work to reduce the spread of content that does not violate the law, but appears harmful. This includes disinformation. Companies must show how they deal with such posts this summer. If the EU concludes that not enough is put in place, this second rule gives them the power to demand changes to algorithms or policies, for example.

What other rules does Twitter have to follow in Europe?

Musk must comply with EU data protection rules, the GDPR, which requires Twitter to have an EU data protection officer. It also means that Twitter must obtain consent before targeting ads to specific user groups, and makes Twitter liable for any data breaches. Musk should keep his eye on other legislation in the works such as the EU’s AI Act. The current proposal prohibits the use of algorithms that have been shown to discriminate against people, which could affect Twitter’s facial cropping tools that are shown to favor thin, young women. The EU’s Child Sexual Abuse Materials proposal could force Twitter to screen private messages for child sexual abuse imagery, or grooming. It is still being debated in the EU.

How will EU regulators enforce the rules?

In extreme cases, they can ban Twitter from operating the bloc. In more modest scenarios, they could allow attacks on the rest of its offices to see if it does what it says it does, and use what they know to force more drastic changes. in behavior. And in more likely initial situations, they will issue strong wording demands, fines, and hanging the threat of further action.

These are options open to all companies subject to Brussels law, including Meta Platform Inc., Alphabet Inc., Microsoft corp. and so on. However, Musk’s stance on free speech and his dismissal of those half of Twitter employees has put him in the spotlight of regulators. Twitter needs to do more work to comply with the DSA, including adding a mechanism for users to easily flag illegal content and having enough moderators to check content in each EU country. The EU hasn’t been afraid to take on big US tech companies in the past. Ireland’s data protector fined Twitter €450,000 ($448,360) in 2020 for violating the GDPR. Amazon.com Inc., Meta’s WhatsApp, and Alphabet’s Google have been slapped with fines of millions of euros, although critics argue that these symbolic fines will do little to change the behavior of the tech giants as the companies look- well this is the cost of doing business in Europe.

When can the action be taken?

As far as DSA is concerned, soon. Twitter must publish the number of its users in February, which will begin the commission’s regulatory process, but it will not have to submit a risk assessment until next summer. However, Musk’s first chance to show the EU that he takes content seriously is to go ahead with the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation. Twitter signed the code this summer, promising not to profit from disinformation and fight fake accounts and bot amplification. While the code is voluntary, it’s obviously not a good look if Musk reneges on the promise or breaks it immediately.

The Irish watchdog said it would “closely” monitor Musk’s movements. Following the departure of Twitter’s sole chief privacy officer, the company has assured Ireland’s data watchdog that it is GDPR compliant and has someone in charge of the data in the meantime. The biggest risk may be having too few staff to protect the platform from hacks that reveal user data.

Is the EU the only area Musk should worry about?

The US Supreme Court will hear two cases that could hold social media companies liable for algorithms that promote illegal or harmful content. This could change how US companies moderate content. Meanwhile, Twitter was sued India of a new law that gives the government control over social media posts. It’s not clear if this goes against Musk’s ideas of free speech enough for him to pursue the lawsuit or if he’s just following the law.

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