EU Targets Musk’s X in First Digital Services Act Probe

The European Union will test its new rules governing the world’s largest online platforms with an investigation of X, alleging “disinformation, illegal content, deceptive design."

Shane Snider , Senior Writer, InformationWeek

December 18, 2023

3 Min Read
Silhouette of businessman Elon Musk, New logo of Twitter in background.
Silhouette of businessman Elon Musk, with logo of X in background.Peter Kováč via Alamy Stock

European regulators on Monday announced they would investigate social media microblogging site X, formerly known as Twitter, over concerns that content violated the rules of the new Digital Services Act (DSA).

The European Union’s DSA went live in August and made new rules aimed at big tech companies to prevent harmful content from spreading and police other user-targeted practices. The DSA also requires companies to share some internal data with regulators and researchers. The rules apply to 19 of the largest online platforms, which were designated as “Very Large Online Platforms” or VLOPs.

The European Commission opened the formal proceedings “to assess whether X may have preached the [DSA] in areas lined to risk management, content moderations, dark patters, advertising transparency and data access or researchers,” according to a press release.

The Commission said X’s replies to a formal request for information under the DSA, along with its November “transparency report” regarding the dissemination of “illegal content” concerning the Hamas terror attacks in Israel, prompted the investigation. The proceedings will also focus on the effectiveness of measures taken to combat misinformation (including the effectiveness of the platform’s “community notes” system), and suspected “deceptive design” of the user interface (focusing on Twitter’s “Blue Check” subscription system.

“Today’s opening of formal proceedings against X makes it clear that, with the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are ‘too big to care’ has come to an end,” Thierry Breton, the EU’s commissioner for Internal Market, said in a statement. “We now have clear rules, ex ante obligations, strong oversight, speedy enforcement, and deterrent sanctions and we will make full use of our toolbox to protect our citizens and democracies.”

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, Breton sent letters to X, Meta, TikTok and Alphabet encouraging the companies to adhere to the DSA’s rules about harmful and illegal content. All platforms responded quickly to Breton’s letter, but Musk publicly challenged the charge of disinformation.

“Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports,” X owner Elon Musk wrote on Oct. 10. “Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them.”

Breton responded on X, “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. My team remains at your disposal to ensure DSA compliance, which the EU will continue to enforce rigorously.”

On Oct. 12, the Commission sent a letter requesting information over alleged spreading of terrorist and violent content and hate speech.

Big tech firms found in breach of DSA compliance face a fine worth up to 6% of their global revenue. Twitter’s ad revenue was $4.73 billion in 2022, the year Musk bought the company.

“The higher the risk large platforms pose to our society, the more specific the requirements of the Digital Services Act are,” Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said in a statement. “We take any breach of our rules very seriously. And the evidence we currently have is enough to formally open a proceeding against X.”

About the Author(s)

Shane Snider

Senior Writer, InformationWeek, InformationWeek

Shane Snider is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of industry experience. He started his career as a general assignment reporter and has covered government, business, education, technology and much more. He was a reporter for the Triangle Business Journal, Raleigh News and Observer and most recently a tech reporter for CRN. He was also a top wedding photographer for many years, traveling across the country and around the world. He lives in Raleigh with his wife and two children.

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