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European Union investigating Musk's X over possible breaches of social media law

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LA Post: European Union investigating Musk's X over possible breaches of social media law
December 18, 2023

LONDON (AP) — The European Union on Monday made Elon Musk’s online platform X the first tech company to face an investigation under Europe's tough new regulations designed to clean up social media and protect people from toxic online content.

“Today we open formal infringement proceedings against @X” under the Digital Services Act, European Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a post on the platform formerly known as Twitter. Musk, in response, questioned whether the EU would also scrutinize other social media sites.

The 27-nation bloc is ratcheting up the pressure on X after asking the company in October for information on its handling of hate speech, misinformation and violent terrorist content related to the Israel-Hamas war. The case presents the first test for the Digital Services Act, part of a set of pioneering regulations that the EU has drawn up to rein in the power of tech companies.

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, “will now investigate X’s systems and policies related to certain suspected infringements” of the DSA, spokesman Johannes Bahrke told a press briefing in Brussels. “It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.”

The San Francisco-based social media platform says it is “committed to complying with the Digital Services Act, and is cooperating with the regulatory process. It is important that this process remains free of political influence and follows the law.”

“X is focused on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all users on our platform, while protecting freedom of expression, and we will continue to work tirelessly towards this goal,” the company said in a statement.

Musk has touted the platform as a place for free speech to thrive, but changes that the billionaire Tesla CEO made to the site after he bought it a year ago — such as cutting the number of content moderators and restoring the banned accounts of divisive public personalities — have turned off users and advertisers, who have fled over concerns about hate speech appearing alongside their ads. He has also pulled the platform out of a voluntary EU pact against disinformation.

The EU's investigation will look into whether X failed to do enough to curb the spread of illegal content — such as hate speech or incitement of terrorism — to its 112 million users in Europe.

That includes the effectiveness of X's tools for users to flag up illegal material in posts and ads so that it can be swiftly removed, as well as whether the company is following its own policies on restricting “sensitive content.”

The investigation also will examine whether X's measures to combat “ information manipulation," especially through its crowd-sourced Community Notes fact-checking feature, were effective within the European Union.

Another area of investigation is transparency. The EU said there are "suspected shortcomings" in researchers' access to X’s publicly accessible data" as well as its ad database, both of which are required by the DSA.

Lastly, the investigation will look into whether users are being tricked by suspected “deceptive design” of X's interface, including for its blue check subscription service. The blue checkmarks once signified that the person or institution behind an account was genuine, such as a celebrity, athlete or journalist, but now merely indicate someone pays $8 a month to boost their posts above unchecked users.

“Are you taking action against other social media?” Musk tweeted in response to Breton. “Because if you have those issues with this platform, and none are perfect, the others are much worse.”

The EU has called out X as the worst place online for fake news, and officials have exhorted owner Musk to do more to clean it up.

Now, it's taking official steps under the Digital Services Act, a set of far-reaching rules designed to keep users safe online and stop the spread of harmful content that’s either illegal or violates a platform’s terms of service, such as promotion of genocide or anorexia.

A raft of big tech companies faced stricter scrutiny after the DSA took effect earlier this year, threatening penalties of up to 6% of their global revenue — which could amount to billions — or even a ban from the EU.

Fines are, however, considered a last ditch resort, and Brussels could first use “interim measures" to force companies to comply.

There's no deadline for a decision on the investigation into X, and the commission said it would continue to gather evidence, carry out interviews and conduct inspections.


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