Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover creates a potential clash with Europe

Following Elon Musk’s $ 44 billion deal to buy Twitter, EU officials have a message for the world’s richest man: follow the rules.

Over the weekend, the EU provisionally announced the law on digital services, which forces large technology companies to more aggressively monitor content on their platforms.

User-generated content platforms like Twitter and Facebook will be required to implement robust content moderation systems to ensure they can quickly remove illegal material such as hate speech, incitement to terrorism and child sexual abuse.

Musk is one of Twitter’s most popular users and has used it for everything from making announcements about Tesla and his other companies to posting memes and attacking his critics.

The eccentric tech billionaire has previously called himself an “freedom of speech absolute”, saying he wants to reform Twitter as a “digital city square” with fewer restrictions on what users can say.

It can have huge consequences for the way content is moderated on Twitter – a major concern for regulators who want to rein in digital giants over the spread of hate speech and misinformation online.

At this point, it’s unclear what exactly Musk plans to do with Twitter. And the process of buying the company is one that is likely to take several months, if not years.

But state officials have expressed concern over the possibility of Musk reinstating Donald Trump’s Twitter account. The former president was banned from the platform after his supporters rioted inside the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021. For his part, Trump says he has no plans to return.

Cedric O, France’s digital minister, said that although there are “some interesting things” Musk wants to push for on Twitter, the EU’s new law on digital services will “apply regardless of the owner’s ideology.”

The DSA is expected to enter into force as early as 2024. Companies that break the rules risk fines of up to 6% of their global annual revenue – just over $ 300 million for a company like Twitter, based on sales figures for 2021.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton warned Musk that he would have to comply with the bloc’s new digital rules.

“Whether it’s cars or social media, every company operating in Europe must abide by our rules – regardless of their shareholding,” Breton tweeted on Tuesday.

“Mr Musk knows this well. He is familiar with European rules for the car industry and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.”

Breton, former CEO of the French IT consulting firm Atos, is seen as a key architect behind the EU’s digital reforms. Alongside the Digital Markets Act, which seeks to limit the dominance of Internet giants, the DSA is part of a bold plan by the bloc to regulate Big Tech.

Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond, said Musk’s Twitter acquisition “may be the first major test for the DSA.” Brussels may appear to be using the Musk Twitter agreement as a way to “test” its new enforcement tools, he told CNBC.

“The risks to the EU are that Musk has shown his willingness to push back and fight the government,” Tobias added, pointing to Musk’s battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a now infamous tweet saying he would take Tesla privately for $ 420 a share.

A push for more lax study of content online could also put Musk on a collision course with Britain, with politicians seeking to impose their own measures to crack down on harmful content.

The UK’s online security law will make it mandatory for social media services to tackle both illegal posts and material that is “legal but harmful”, a vague definition that has attracted criticism from some in the tech industry over concerns that it could stifle freedom of expression .

A spokesman for the British government was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Efforts for platforms like Twitter would be even higher under the Online Safety Bill, which threatens jail time for business leaders for serious violations, as well as penalties of up to 10% of annual global sales.

The legislation, which has not yet been approved by UK lawmakers, is expected to become law later this year.

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