Elon Musk tells Europe Twitter will comply with bloc’s illegal speech rules • TechCrunch

Shock! Elon Musk’s tenure at Twitter is already shaping as much as be complicated and contradictory.

Whether or not this dynamic finally ends up being extra self-defeating for him and his new firm than dangerous for the remainder of humanity and human civilization stays tbc.

On the one hand, a recent report immediately suggests Musk is making ready main workers cuts: 25%, per the Washington Post. (He denied an earlier report by the identical newspaper, final week — suggesting he’d told investors he planned to slash costs by liquidating a full 75% of staff — so how radical a haircut he’s planning remains to be unclear, at the same time as reports of fired staffers are trickling onto Twitter.)

However, additionally immediately, Reuters reported that Twitter’s new CEO — the self-styled “Chief Twit” — reached out to the European Union final week to guarantee native lawmakers that the platform will adjust to an incoming flagship reboot of the bloc’s guidelines on digital governance round unlawful content material.

A transfer that may, self-evidently, demand a beefed up authorized, belief and security perform inside Twitter if Musk is to truly ship compliance with the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) — at a time when Musk is sharpening the knives to chop headcount.

DSA compliance for a platform like Twitter will probably require a complete workforce, in and of itself. A workforce which needs to be beginning work ASAP. The great EU framework for regulating “info society companies” and “middleman companies” throughout the bloc spans 93 articles and 156 recitals — and is because of begin making use of as quickly as subsequent yr for bigger platforms. (It’s February 17, 2024, for all the remaining.)

Penalties for violations of the incoming regime can scale as much as 6% of worldwide annual turnover — which, on Twitter’s full yr income for 2021, implies potential fines of up to a couple hundred million {dollars} apiece. So there needs to be incentive to conform to keep away from such expensive regulatory threat. (Er, until Musk’s technique for ‘saving’ Twitter entails dismantling the enterprise totally and operating its income into the bottom.)

But — in one other early step — considered one of Musk’s first strikes as proprietor of the social media platform was to fireplace quite a few senior execs, together with Vijaya Gadde, its former head of Authorized, Coverage, Belief And Security.

Musk had been important of her position in a choice by Twitter, again in October 2020, to — initially — restrict the distribution of a controversial New York Publish article reporting on emails and different knowledge supposedly originating on a laptop computer belonging to US president Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. The motion led to accusations that Twitter was censoring journalism and demonstrating a pro-Democrat bias, despite the fact that the corporate subsequently rowed again on the restrictions and revised its insurance policies.

Focused harassment

Musk waded into the saga earlier this yr with a tweet that branded the Publish’s story “truthful” and dubbed Twitter’s actions “extremely inappropriate”. He additionally doubled down shortly afterwards by retweeting a meme focusing on Gadde by identify — which led to a vicious pile-on by his followers that prompted former Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, to tweet at Musk publicly to ask why he was encouraging focused harassment of the Twitter exec?

Put one other method, a former Twitter CEO felt compelled to name out the (now present) CEO of Twitter for encouraging focused harassment of a senior staffer — who additionally occurs to be a lady and POC. To say that this bodes badly for Twitter’s compliance with EU guidelines which are meant to make sure platforms act duty in direction of customers — and drive accountability round how they’re operated — appears to be like like an understatement.

Whereas the EU’s DSA is most targeted on governance guidelines for dealing with unlawful content material/items and so forth — i.e. somewhat than tackling the greyer space of on-line disinformation, election interference, ‘authorized however dangerous’ stuff (abuse, bullying) and so forth, (areas the place the EU has some other mechanisms/approaches in the works) — bigger platforms could be designated as a particular class (referred to as VLOPs) and can then have a set of extra obligations they need to adjust to.

These further necessities for VLOPs embody finishing up obligatory threat assessments in areas similar to whether or not the applying of their T&Cs and content material moderation insurance policies have any unfavorable results on “civic discourse, electoral processes and public safety”, for instance; and a follow-on requirement to mitigate any dangers — by placing in place “cheap, proportionate and efficient mitigation measures, tailor-made to the precise systemic dangers recognized” (together with the place dangers are impacting customers’ fundamental rights, so stuff like respect for human dignity and equality; non-discrimination; respect for range, and so forth amongst different core rights listed within the EU constitution). 

The implication is a VLOP would face main challenges below the DSA if it was to disregard dangers to basic rights flowing — say — from a choice to use a ‘free speech absolutist’ strategy to content material moderation, as Musk has, at occasions, claimed is his desire (however — ever mercurial — he’s additionally stated that, as Twitter CEO, he would adjust to all authorized necessities, in every single place on the earth they apply).

Whether or not Twitter will likely be classed as a VLOP is one (now) very burning query for EU residents and lawmakers.

The Fee hasn’t specified both method — however inner market commissioner, Thierry Breton, has (no less than) closely implied Musk’s Twitter will face significant checks and balances below the DSA. Which suggests it is going to be designated and controlled as a VLOP.

Therefore Breton’s quick schooling of Musk last week — when, in response to the latter’s ‘free speech’ base-enflaming “the fowl is freed” tweet, the commissioner pointedly rejoined: “In Europe the fowl will fly by our [EU] guidelines.”

Musk didn’t reply publicly to Breton’s education on the time. However, based on a Reuters report immediately, he reached out to the Fee to “guarantee” it the platform will abide by the EU’s guidelines on “unlawful on-line content material policing”, because the information company places it.

“In a beforehand unreported trade final week, Musk advised [Breton] that he deliberate to adjust to the area’s Digital Providers Act,” Reuters additionally wrote, including: “The self-described free speech absolutist agreed to carry a gathering with Breton, a former French finance minister, within the coming weeks, [per] two EU officers aware of the discussions.”

A spokesman for commissioner Breton confirmed Reuters’ reporting — however didn’t provide any additional element about what was (or will likely be) mentioned.

Flights of fancy

In idea, Musk might search to adjust to the letter of the EU legislation on unlawful content material — similar to by guaranteeing that the mandatory “discover and motion” mechanisms are in place for dealing with unlawful content material below the DSA; and offering sufficient info to customers on any restrictions and/or different kinds of interventions utilized — whereas ignoring lawmakers’ wider expectations and civic responsibility entreaties to behave responsibly vis-a-vis dangers hooked up to fuzzier kinds of not-illegal however usually poisonous and/or socially damaging content material (similar to focused abuse and harassment), and nonetheless attempt to declare that’s compliance.

One regarding signal, for the longer term high quality of knowledge that’s being surfaced on Twitter, is a rumor that Musk intends to cost customers to be verified and take away present verifications from any customers who received’t pay up — which, relying on the way it’s utilized/policed, risks being a boon to scammers/frausters/imposters and so forth (who might merely pay to say a short lived stamp of fake authority, within the type of a verification badge, whereas public service-oriented people, similar to journalists (say), may be much less in a position to afford to pay Musk for ongoing verification). In a sweep, a change to paid verifications might thus degrade the accessibility of high quality public info on Twitter by making it more durable for customers to sift real sources from impersonators and different kinds of disinformation peddlers.

On the time of writing Twitter had not responded to questions on Musk’s interplay with Breton final week — or in regards to the agenda of his forthcoming assembly with the EU. So it stays to seen how he’s going to play this one.

However — to this point no less than — the general public noises Musk’s been making in response to EU outreach have been surprisingly, er, compliant-sounding. So he’s both planning to contradict himself (on the “free speech absolutism” aspect), or else he’s taking part in for time — by telling the EU what it needs to listen to whereas getting on with doing the alternative behind closed doorways (i.e. ripping up Twitter’s belief & security useful resource).

There’s undoubtedly hazard right here, for the bloc and its residents typically — and for the Fee, particularly, as key enforcer of main components of the DSA.

If Musk finally ends up primarily trolling the EU’s shiny new rulebook — by making an attempt to fly an deliberately under-resourced Twitter below the bloc’s radar and ignoring wider societal harms that would fast-follow denuded T&Cs tacitly sanctioning poisonous speech — it couldn’t simply take the shine off the EU’s newly minted digital rulebook however undermine the entire reboot.

That stated, the Fee does have some leeway right here because the DSA permits it to think about a spread of knowledge because it takes choices on designating VLOPs — which triggers the additional leverage of systemic threat mitigation necessities. (“The Fee shall take its choice on the idea of information reported by the supplier of the net platform or of the net search engine pursuant to Article 24(2) [of the DSA], or info requested pursuant to Article 24(3) or another info obtainable to the Fee,” runs Article 33 — emphasis ours.)

So — on paper — the EU does have instruments it may use to shrink the danger posed by Musk proudly owning Twitter by saddling his platform with further layers of accountability crimson tape.

If Should nonetheless simply ignores these necessities, then the EU might plausibly resort to appropriately giant penalties and sanctions. And a closely leveraged billionaire can’t swallow that many fines and nonetheless be capable of service the massive debt he’s taken on with a purpose to purchase Twitter.

Threats to democracy and international safety

The Fee will definitely be below enormous stress to make sure the DSA delivers by maintaining platforms accountable with regards to performing on and reining in harms — and on-line hate and harassment do, no less than, are typically pretty seen harms. Making unfavorable impacts more durable to hide/more durable for regulators to disregard. So it’s additionally potential {that a} misbehaving Musk may really assist EU lawmakers screw their braveness to the sticking place with regards to enforcement towards platforms’ systemic, societal dangers.

In spite of everything, he’s a polarizing determine — and attracts loads of hate himself — whereas his love of shitposting and trolling regulators raises the danger he’ll make very public missteps that make it simpler for the Fee to implement towards such an apparent goal.

There’s additionally already a clamor over Musk’s Twitter takeover in Europe. Various European civil society teams are calling for motion over the billionaire’s possession of the platform. A dozen NGOs, led by Defend Democracy, have penned an open letter to the EU — highlighting what they describe because the “alarming implications for democracy and safety”. So loads of exterior eyes will likely be skilled on Musk — watching and ready for any recent missteps.

Prime of the record of issues raised by the NGOs is “international safety” — with the letter pointing to Musk’s latest amplification of Kremlin narratives geared at undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity; his threats to terminate Starlink service in Ukraine; and public assist he’s expressed for China, the place the letter notes he has “substantial financial pursuits”, by “suggesting that Beijing needs to be handed some management over Taiwan”.

The NGOs additionally increase issues over on-line requirements and safeguards — elevating the sacking of Gadde; pointing to stories of plans for mass Twitter sackings; and flagging issues that Musk will unban former US president Donald Trump, who was completely banned after the US capital riots in January 2021.

“The announcement of main workers cuts, the lifting of account bans and the rejection of content material moderation is straight opposite to the letter and spirit of latest EU laws adopted earlier this yr that seeks to make massive tech corporations take larger duty for hate speech and disinformation on their platforms,” they argue.

They additional warn over what Musk-owned Twitter’s implications for customers’ knowledge safety and privateness — warning over his “obvious closeness to quite a few repressive regimes, and given his dismissive angle to imposing relevant laws on a spread of public insurance policies” — earlier than suggesting: “This might affect the work and lives of democratic politicians, human rights activists, democracy defenders, journalists, attorneys, disinformation consultants, minorities and unusual residents in every single place.”

The NGOs’ letter, which is addressed to the presidents of the Fee, Council and Parliament, calls on the EU establishments to undertake “an pressing safety and regulatory assessment of this takeover”, including: “We demand pressing and sufficient measures to guard European residents, democracy and safety from its dangerous implications.”

We reached out to the Fee, Council and Parliament for touch upon the NGOs’ name for an pressing assessment of Musk’s possession of Twitter — however on the time of writing not one of the EU establishments had responded.

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