EU Warns Elon Musk Over ‘Disinformation’ About Hamas Attack

Elon Musk continues to flirt with a potential hefty financial fine, over the alleged level of disinformation on his platform.

The European Union has written personally to Elon Musk, over “indications that your platform is being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU.”

Specifically, the EU cited “the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel.”

This is not the first time that EU officials have singled out Elon Musk’s X. Under the EU’s new Digital Services Act (DSA), failure to moderate content such as fake news could incur a fine of 6 percent of X revenues, or even a shutdown of the platform within the EU.

Image credit: X

EU warning

There are concerns in Brussels that Twitter is not responding within 24 hours to complaints about disinformation or other illegal content such as hate speech within the required time.

But Elon Musk has been at risk of a showdown with European authorities for a while now, ever since he axed most of Twitter’s content moderation team during his chaotic takeover of the platform, that also saw him axe 80 percent of the workforce, as well as other controversial changes.

Musk also dissolved Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council shortly after acquiring the company in late 2022.

Indeed, in the United States his Twitter takeover is already under federal investigation.

Now Thierry Breton, the European commissioner responsible for the Digital Service Act has written a strongly worded letter to Elon Musk in order to urge him to ensure “a prompt, accurate, and complete response” to the request to contact Europol, the EU police enforcement agency, and “relevant law enforcement agencies” within the next 24 hours.

Thierry Breton. Image credit: European Parliament

In his letter, published on Twitter, Breton reminded Musk that he needed to have “proportionate and effective mitigation measures to tackle the risks to public security and civic discourse stemming from disinformation.”

“Let me remind you that the Digital Services Act sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation,” wrote Breton.

“First, you need to be very transparent and clear on what content is permitted under your terms and consistently and diligently enforce your own policies,” he wrote. “This is particularly relevant when it comes to violent and terrorist content that appears to circulate on your platform. Your latest changes in public interest policies that occurred over night left many European users uncertain.”

“Second, when you receive notices of illegal content in the EU, you must be timely, diligent and objective in taking action and removing the relevant content when warranted,” he warned. “We have, from qualified sources, reports about potentially illegal content circulating on your service despite flags from relevant authorities.”

“Third, you need have in place proportionate and effective mitigation measures to tackle the risks to public security and civic discourse stemming from disinformation,” Breton wrote. “Public media and civil society organisations widely report instances of fake and manipulated images and facts circulating on your platform in the EU, such as repurposed old images of unrelated armed conflicts or military footage that actually originated from video games. This appears to be manifestly false or misleading information.”

“I therefore invite you to urgently ensure that your systems are effective, and report on the crisis measures taken to my team,” Breton wrote. “Given the urgency, I also expect you to be in contact with the relevant law enforcement authorities and Europol, and ensure that you respond promptly to their request.”

Breton urged Musk “to ensure a prompt, accurate and complete response to this request within the next 24 hours.”

If Musk does not comply he can face a fine of 6 percent of his revenues from X or a potential suspension of the service in the EU.

Previous warnings

It should be remembered that Elon Musk had withdrawn Twitter from the EU’s voluntary code of practice in May this year.

Industry commissioner Thierry Breton however warned at the time that Twitter’s legal obligations on disinformation remained.

The European Commission in February had slammed Twitter’s compliance with the code, saying its efforts were falling short of those of its peers.

Then last month European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova urged big name tech platforms to do more to combat Russian disinformation campaigns ahead of elections in Europe.

Jourova specifically listed Twitter as being the largest spreader of Russian lies and propaganda, out of all large social media platforms. Facebook was the second worst offender.

Musk response

Musk meanwhile responded to Breton on X, tweeting: “Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports. Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them.”

Breton replied: “You are well aware of your users’ – and authorities’- reports on fake content and glorification of violence. Up to you to demonstrate that you walk the talk.”

There was no reply from Musk after this.

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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