Categories: Tech News

Musk’s free speech plans for Twitter clash with EU content rules

Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter could hit a big roadblock: the European Union.

Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter could hit a big roadblock: the European Union.

The continent’s regulations have been a headache for Silicon Valley for years, and Musk, a so-called “free speech absolutist,” could soon feel the pain.

Hours after Elon Musk tweeted that he had “released” the bird, referring to the Twitter logo, European Commission Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton warned that in Europe “the bird will fly ahead” of the EU content moderation rules.

The EU’s Digital Services Act, which officially became law this month, gives the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, unprecedented powers to police tech platforms by requiring them to remove illegal content that from terrorist propaganda to advertisements for unsafe toys.

Breton already warned Musk in the spring that his approach to free speech should follow the DSA. “I don’t care what he does outside of Europe,” Breton told Bloomberg Television in April. “You want to enter Europe? These are our rules.”

The EU has never shied away from monitoring Big Tech. The General Data Protection Regulation, in violation of the union’s benchmark data protection rules, already resulted in a €450,000 ($448,360) fine for Twitter in 2020, while Amazon. com Inc., WhatsApp by Meta Platforms Inc. and Google from Alphabet Inc. they have received fines of tens of millions of euros.

Soon, the commission will have even more power to police Big Tech. The Digital Markets Act will force technology companies designated as “guardians” to comply with new antitrust rules. But the biggest problem for Musk will be its sister legislation, the DSA.

Potential fines

The main aim of the legislation is to ensure that businesses are better placed to find and remove illegal content, but what is considered illegal can differ significantly between the 27 EU countries. Musk’s Twitter, like all social media companies, will have to be diligent about removing illegal content, regardless of the country it’s posted from, or face fines of up to 6% of its global annual turnover. If Twitter repeatedly breaks the rules, the company could be banned from operating in the union entirely.

Content moderation has always been complicated for tech companies, which rely on a combination of algorithms and human monitoring to remove content. Twitter currently has roughly 1,500 people moderating content, compared with 15,000 at Meta and 10,000 for Google products, according to New York University research. Experts say these numbers are not enough to adequately monitor social media content.

At one point, Musk planned to cut 75 percent of Twitter’s workforce, according to documents seen by the Washington Post. Although it has returned with such high numbers, any plan to strip the company of content moderators will likely make it even more difficult to stay on top of illegal postings in EU countries, let alone the rest of the world

The EU’s DSA will also force companies to moderate content in the languages ​​in which they operate. On Friday, Musk announced that he wants to create a content moderation board with “diverse viewpoints,” but if he cuts the number of people on Twitter’s human content moderation team, the company could rely more on automated systems. However, these systems tend to struggle to determine the context of posts and have a history of high-profile errors.

Lifetime bans

While the EU’s approach to tech regulation may appear to clash broadly with Musk’s love of free speech, there are many points on which they align. The DSA forces companies to make their algorithms more transparent and requires them to have consistent rules about banning people from the platform.

After the January 6 attack, it was EU leaders, including Breton and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who spoke out against unlimited Twitter and Facebook bans on former President Donald Trump, a position Musk agrees with. Getting rid of lifetime bans creates the possibility for high-profile people who were blocked, such as Steve Bannon, to return to the platform.

That kind of alignment was on display when Breton visited Musk in Texas in May. At the time, Breton told Bloomberg that the two had “no disagreements” about their approach to content. Musk said in a viral video post that “I agree with everything you said, really,” speaking to Breton. “I think we’re very much on the same page.”

That relationship could change as the commission begins to crack down on content that is harmful but not illegal: for example, algorithms that surface eating disorder content. The DSA gives the commission powers to ask companies to carry out risk assessments focused on specific types of harmful material and, if sufficient controls are not put in place, to force them to downgrade it.

This is where Musk and Breton’s approaches may differ. In the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU took a much more interventionist approach than the US, banning Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik in an effort to crack down on disinformation. Musk was explicitly against banning news sites.


Published by

Recent Posts

More on the Interest-Income Channel

Last weekend, I wrote about Warren Mosler's argument that the Fed's rate hikes could be…

4 weeks ago

More information in the Interests Channel

Last weekend, I he wrote on Warren Mosler's argument that the Fed's rate hikes could…

4 weeks ago

Biden wants to reduce the deficit. Powell wants to reduce inflation. Do rate hikes undermine both goals?

Last week, the chairman of the Fed, Jerome Powell said, "the disinflationary process has begun".…

1 month ago

Quick thoughts on the CBO budget and economic outlook

Earlier this week, I joined Romaine Bostick and Scarlet Fu Bloomberg TV. The Congressional Budget…

1 month ago

Eight states have joined forces to raise taxes on America’s wealthiest

Tomorrow morning, I'll be joining CNBC's Squawk Box to talk about a new effort tax…

1 month ago

Mike Pence would pick up where Paul Ryan left off

Former Vice President Mike Pence talks about privatizing Social Security. The remarks came Thursday before…

2 months ago