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Musk has fired Twitter’s entire Brussels office — and it has put him on a collision course with new EU laws

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Elon Musk’s plan to turn Twitter Inc into a free speech haven may run into its biggest political obstacle yet in the European Union, where it faces the new Digital Services Act, which forces to remove illegal content. is doing.

Musk said he would comply with national laws — specifically assuring relevant EU authorities that he would comply with the DSA — but that doing so would be difficult in practice because too few employees are left with mediocre content. . It won’t be easy in Brussels, the EU’s legislative capital, where Twitter’s office is now lifeless.

EU leaders know that Musk himself was a controversial speaker on Twitter – he was sued for defamation when he called a British caver a “paedoman” (Musk won), the US SEC sued Tesla Inc. for tweets about taking (Musk ) private. Fixed), he tweeted a Nazi meme (subsequently deleted) and posted misinformation about an attack on the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (also deleted).

While most of these would not have violated the DSA, they certainly alerted lawmakers to the possibility that they were a sign of things to come.

What new rules does Twitter have to comply with in Europe?

One rule puts a requirement on platforms like Twitter to remove illegal content in member states of any EU bloc. For example, content promoting Nazism must be removed in Germany, where such statements are illegal. But it wouldn’t have to be transported across the border to Denmark, where it isn’t. Another rule is that platforms like Twitter must show the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, that they are doing a fair amount of work to reduce the spread of content that does not break any laws, but is considered harmful. could be seen as This would include propaganda. Companies will have to show this summer how they deal with these kinds of messages. If the EU’s findings aren’t enough, this second rule gives them the power to demand a change in algorithm or policy, for example.

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What other rules does Twitter have to follow in Europe?

Musk must comply with EU data protection regulations, the GDPR, which requires Twitter to have a data protection officer in the EU. It also means Twitter must get permission before targeting ads to specific user groups, and makes Twitter liable for any data breaches. Musk will have to keep an eye on other laws, such as the EU’s AI law. The current proposal bans the use of algorithms that have been shown to discriminate against people, which could affect Twitter’s face cropping tool, which has been shown to favor thin, young women. The European Union’s proposal to use child sexual abuse material could force Twitter to screen private messages for images of child sexual abuse or grooming. These are still under debate in the European Union.

How will EU regulators enforce the rules?

In extreme cases, they can ban Twitter from working in blocks. In more modest scenarios, they can invade the rest of their office to see if it does what it says it does, and make strong behavior changes to find out what they are. use that. In more likely initial situations, they will make strong demands, impose fines and threaten further action.

These are open options for all companies subject to Brussels law, including Meta Platforms Inc, Alphabet Inc, Microsoft Corp and others. However, Musk’s stance on free speech and the firing of nearly half of Twitter’s staff have already thrust him into the spotlight of regulators. Twitter will have a lot more work to do to comply with the DSA, including adding a mechanism for users to easily flag illegal content and having enough moderators to review content in every EU country. The EU has historically not been afraid to take on big US tech companies. The Irish data protection watchdog fined Twitter €450,000 ($448,360) in 2020 for breaching the GDPR. Amazon.com Inc., Meta’s WhatsApp and Alphabet’s Google have each been fined millions of euros, though critics argue these token fines do little to change the behavior of big tech as the companies allow them to do business in Europe . seen as a cost item.

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When can action be taken?

It’s never too early, as far as the DSA is concerned. Twitter is due to release its user numbers in February, which will begin the oversight ordering process, but is not required to submit a risk assessment until next summer. Instead, Musk has the first chance to show the EU that he takes content seriously and enforces the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation. Twitter signed the code this summer, pledging not to capitalize on misinformation and fight fake accounts and bot-driven reinforcement. While the code is voluntary, it clearly doesn’t look good if Musk backs out of the promise or promptly breaks it.

The Irish watchdog has said it is following Musk’s steps “closely”. Following the departure of Twitter’s sole chief privacy officer, the company assured the Irish data watchdog that it was GDPR compliant and that someone would be responsible for data in the meantime. Perhaps the biggest risk is that there is not enough staff to protect the platform against hacks that expose user data.

Is the European Union the only place Musk should be concerned about?

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases that could hold social media companies liable for algorithms promoting illegal or harmful content. This could dramatically change the way American companies moderate content. Meanwhile, Twitter has sued India over a new law that essentially gives the government control over censoring social media posts. It is unclear whether it goes against Musk’s views on free speech that he will sue or whether he will simply follow the law.

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