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EU warns Elon Musk to strengthen Twitter safety controls

December 1, 2022

A top European Union official has told Elon Musk that Twitter must beef up measures to protect users from harmful content, including hate speech.

A phone screen displays a photo of Elon Musk with the Twitter logo shown in the background
Musk has previously fired thousands of Twitter staffImage: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP

The EU's commissioner for digital policy, Thierry Breton, has warned Twitter owner Elon Musk that the company must work hard to comply with new social media laws.

Musk, who bought Twitter in October, has signaled an interest in scrapping the platform's own rules aimed at combatting misinformation. 

What did Breton and Musk discuss?

Breton and Musk held a video call to discuss Twitter's preparedness for the EU's Digital Services Act, which is due to take effect next year.

The law requires tech companies to increase check for content that might promote terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech and commercial scams.

Breton welcomed Musk's statements of intent to prepare Twitter for the new legislation, but said the platform needed to take concrete steps.

"I am pleased to hear that he has read it carefully and considers it as a sensible approach to implement on a worldwide basis," the EU commissioner said. 

"But let's also be clear that there is still huge work ahead, as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising."

In the call, Musk agreed to let the European Commission carry out a "stress test" at Twitter's headquarters early next year. 

The aim would be to help the platform comply with the new rules ahead of schedule and prepare for an "extensive independent audit" as required by the new EU law. 

Violations could lead to fines matching as much as 6% of a company's annual global revenue and could even trigger a ban on operating in the EU.

Big changes since takeover

Musk had sought to fashion himself as a champion of free speech even before his $44-billion (€42.2-billion) takeover of Twitter. Many of his supporters accuse the previous leadership of Twitter of censorship.

Twitter employees file lawsuit amid mass layoffs

Since taking control of the network, Musk has laid off about half the company's 7,500-person workforce along with an unknown number of contractors responsible for content moderation. A significant part of the executive team quit voluntarily.

Teams responsible for communications, content curation, human rights and machine learning ethics were particularly affected, as well as some product and engineering teams.

He has also reinstated previously banned accounts, including that of former US President Donald Trump. The platform says it has also stopped enforcing a policy intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 misinformation.

Last week, the European Commission's vice president for values and transparency tweeted that she was concerned about reports that "a vast amount" of Twitter's European staff had been fired.

"If you want to effectively detect and take action against disinformation & propaganda, this requires resources," Jourova said. "Especially in the context of Russian disinformation warfare."

rc/dj (AP, Reuters)