EU raises prospect of big fine or ban if Twitter fails to follow new legislation

Elon Musk has been warned he has ‘huge work ahead’ to comply with the EU’s Digital Services Act

The EU has raised the prospect of a substantial fine or ban for Twitter after warning that it must “significantly increase” efforts to comply with new online legislation.

Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, was told he had “huge work ahead” to comply with the EU’s Digital Services Act, which requires tech firms to tackle problems including abusive posts and disinformation.

The EU’s commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, told the Tesla CEO that Twitter will have to significantly increase efforts to “pass the grade”, implying that the platform was in danger of non-compliance with the act.

“I welcome Elon Musk’s statements of intent to get Twitter 2.0 ready for the DSA,” said Breton. “I am pleased to hear that he has read it carefully and considers it as a sensible approach to implement on a worldwide basis. 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.”

He added that Twitter would have to “tackle disinformation with resolve” and limit targeted advertising, including banning profiling of child users for advertising purposes.

The Financial Times reported that Breton reiterated the punishments for breaches of the act, which include fines of up to 6% of global turnover – which would be around $500m in Twitter’s case – or a temporary suspension of the service if refusal to comply endangers people’s life and safety. Suspension is described by the EU as a “last resort”.

Musk has fired half of Twitter’s 7,500 staff since buying the business for $44bn in October, with a further 1,200 reportedly quitting in November after he told remaining staff to commit to being “hardcore” or leave. The company’s head of trust and safety, who oversaw content moderation at Twitter, has also quit since the takeover. The departures, fears that Musk will relax content moderation policies and a botched attempt at relaunching Twitter’s verified user system have resulted in significant numbers of advertisers pausing their spending on the platform. Twitter has also announced that it is no longer enforcing its policy against Covid-19 misinformation.

A readout of the video call between Musk and Breton described it as a “constructive working meeting” with an agreement between both parties to carry out a “stress test” on compliance with the act early next year, as well as preparing for an independent audit of the platform. The readout added that Musk had “committed to comply” with the DSA.

In a blog post published on Wednesday, Twitter said its trust and safety team was continuing “diligent work” to keep the platform safe from abuse, hateful content and any violation of its rules. It added that the team remained “strong and well-resourced”.

Meanwhile, the US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, declined to say whether the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was conducting a review of Twitter. Last month it was reported that CFIUS might investigate the level of non-US investment in Musk’s takeover, which includes financial support from investors including the Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal; Qatar Holding, which is part of the Qatar Investment Authority; and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, whose holding company is registered in the Cayman Islands.

Speaking at a New York Times conference on Wednesday, Yellen said CFIUS looks closely at acquisitions and investments in US firms by foreign buyers that could pose national security risks.

“I’m not going to say specifically what we are or aren’t looking at,” Yellen said. “We don’t comment on work that’s in progress. But if there are such risks, it would be appropriate for CFIUS to have a look.”

On Monday Musk accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its app store and said Apple was pressuring Twitter over content moderation demands.

Yellen said she believed it was appropriate for mobile technology giants Apple and Google to demand certain content standards.

“I think it’s a good thing, if Apple is looking at the content. Most broadcast stations are subjected to standards in terms of what they broadcast to the public. And Twitter’s not really that different than other broadcast stations,” Yellen said.

Asked if it was good that such platforms were overseeing content, Yellen said. “It’s a kind of control that I think is needed.”


Dan Milmo and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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