LONDON (AP) – Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition and his plans for a more tangible approach to content moderation could clash with ambitious new laws in Europe to protect users from misinformation, hate speech and other harmful material.
Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist”, promised to buy Twitter for $ 44 billion this week, with EU officials and digital campaigners quick to say that any focus on free speech to the detriment of online security would not fly by Bloc with 27 countries strengthened its status as a global leader in its efforts to curb the power of technology giants.
“If his approach is to ‘Just stop moderating’, he’s likely to find himself in a lot of legal trouble in the EU,” said Jan Penfrat, senior policy adviser at the digital rights group EDRi.
Musk will soon be confronted with Europe’s law on digital services, which will require major technology companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook’s parent company Meta to monitor their platforms more strictly or face billions in fines.
Officials agreed a few days ago on the landmark legislation expected to enter into force in 2024. It is unclear how quickly it could trigger a similar crackdown elsewhere, with U.S. lawmakers divided in efforts to address competition, online privacy, disinformation and more.
This means that the job of rein in a Musk-led Twitter may fall to Europe – something officials signaled they are ready for.
“Whether it’s cars or social media, every company operating in Europe must abide by our rules – regardless of their shareholding.” Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, tweeted on Tuesday. “Mr Musk knows this well. He is familiar with European rules on the car industry and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.”
Musk’s plans for Twitter have not been concretized beyond a few ideas for new features that open up its public inspection algorithm and defeat “bots” posing as real users.
France’s digital minister, Cedric O, said Musk has “interesting things” that he wants to push for Twitter, “but let’s remember that #DigitalServicesAct – and therefore the obligation to combat misinformation, online hatred, etc. – will apply regardless of the ideology of its owner.”
EU Green Party legislator Alexandra Geese, who was involved in negotiating the law, said: “Elon Musk’s idea of free speech without interference would exclude large sections of the population from public discourse,” such as women and coloreds.
Twitter declined to comment. Musk tweeted that “the extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all.” He added that by freedom of speech he means “that which matches the law” and that he opposes censorship going “far beyond the law.”
The UK also has an online safety law underway that threatens senior executives at technology companies with jail if they do not comply. Users would have more power to block anonymous trolls, and technology companies would be forced to proactively remove illegal content.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office stressed the need for Twitter to remain “responsible” and protect users.
“Regardless of ownership, all social media platforms must be accountable,” Johnson’s spokesman Max Blain said Tuesday.
Damian Collins, a British lawmaker who chaired a parliamentary committee working on the bill, said that if Musk really wants to make Twitter a free space for free speech, “he will have to clean up the digital urban square.”
Collins said Twitter has become a place where users are overwhelmed by coordinated armies of “bot” accounts that spread disinformation and divisions, and that users refrain from expressing themselves “because of the hatred and abuse they want.” receive.”
The laws of the United Kingdom and the European Union are directed against such abuse. Under the EU Digital Services Act, technology companies must put in place systems so that illegal content can be easily flagged for quick removal.
Experts said Twitter will have to go further than removing clearly defined illegal content such as hate speech, terrorism and child sexual abuse and fighting with material that falls into a gray area.
The law requires large technology platforms to perform annual risk assessments to determine how much their products and design choices contribute to the proliferation of divisive material that may affect topics such as health or public debate.
“This is about assessing the extent to which your users are seeing, for example, Russian propaganda related to the Ukraine war,” online harassment or COVID-19 misinformation, “said Mathias Vermeulen, director of public policy at the AWO data rights agency.
Violations will result in fines of up to 6% of a company’s global annual revenue. Repetitive people can be excluded from the EU.
The Digital Services Act also requires technology companies to be more transparent by giving regulators and researchers access to data on how their systems recommend content to users.
Musk has similar thoughts, saying his plans include “making the algorithms open source to increase trust.”
Penfrat said it is a good idea that could pave the way for a new ecosystem of ranking and recommendation options.
But he panned another Musk idea – “authentication of all people” – and said that removing anonymity or pseudonyms from people, including society’s most marginalized, was the dream of every autocrat.
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