The European Union has requested information from Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) about cuts to its content moderation resources.

The request, from the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, revealed that on Wednesday “a request for information (RFI) under the Digital Services Act (DSA). The request seeks to obtain more details on X’s content moderation activities and resources, on the risk assessment conducted by X in relation to the implementation of generative AI tools in the EU as well as on other areas covered by the ongoing proceedings.”

This is part of its first major investigation into the company under its tough new laws governing online content, namely the Digital Services Act.

EU investigation

The European Commission in December 2023 had launched its first investigation into a suspected failure by X to fight against disinformation and content manipulation.

Internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said at the time that the Commission suspected X of breaches of its transparency obligations and its duties to counter illegal content and disinformation.

He said the probe would also look into whether X’s blue checks for paying subscribers constitutes a “deceptive” user interface design.

Thierry Breton. Image credit: European Parliament

The probe followed a separate complaint by privacy activist Max Schrems in which he alleged X violated EU GDPR rules by targeting ads based on people’s political views and religious beliefs.

Now on Wednesday the Commission said it is requesting X to provide detailed information and internal documents on its content moderation resources in light of its latest Transparency report under the DSA, which revealed that X has curtailed its team of content moderators by almost 20 percent since the preceding report in October 2023, reducing linguistic coverage within the European Union from 11 EU languages to 7.

The Commission is also seeking further details on the risk assessments and mitigation measures linked to the impact of generative AI tools on electoral processes, dissemination of illegal content, and protection of fundamental rights.

X must provide the requested information related to content moderation resources and generative AI to the Commission by 17 May 2024, and for the remaining questions by 27 May 2024.

Content moderation

Elon Musk’s decision in January 2023 to axe most of Twitter’s external content moderation teams, along with 80 percent of the Twitter workforce, proved to be controversial, and resulted in an advertising exodus from the platform.

In February 2023 the European Commission had criticised Twitter’s compliance with the EU’s voluntary code of practice on disinformation, saying its efforts were falling short of those of its peers.

In May 2023 Twitter quit the EU’s voluntary code of practice on disinformation, prompting Breton at the time to warn that “obligations remain. You can run but you can’t hide.”

It did however agree to comply with the upcoming DSA.

In August X reorganised the reporting structure of its trust and safety team, to report to both owner Elon Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino.

That same month the European Union specifically named Twitter as being the largest spreader of Russian lies and propaganda, out of all large social media platforms.

Then in October Thierry Breton, the European commissioner responsible for the Digital Service Act (DSA) warned Elon Musk that Twitter must tackle the spread of disinformation concerning the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel.

It was left to Linda Yaccarino to respond to the European Union, after it had issued a 24 hour-ultimatum to Elon Musk to take action against disinformation on the platform.

In December 2023 X lost a bid to block California law that requires social media to publicly disclose their content moderation practices.

That same month the EU began an investigation into X over its content moderation practices.

In March this year a research report from San Francisco-based Sensor Tower revealed that in February 2024, X had 27 million daily active users of its mobile app in the US, down 18 percent from a year earlier.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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