Twitter could be setting a course for a future clash with EU regulators, with the company opting to withdraw from the EU’s voluntary Code of Practice on online disinformation, which is part of the Digital Services Act (DSA), just months out from the EU enforcing compliance with the new standards.
The Code aims to implement clearer reporting and enforcement obligations for large online platforms, in order to combat spammers and scammers, as well as the spread of misinformation.
As per the EU:
“Recognizing the particular impact of very large online platforms on our economy and society, the proposal sets a higher standard of transparency and accountability on how the providers of such platforms moderate and intermediate information. It sets supervised risk management obligations for online platforms that reach the largest audiences and pose the largest societal risks.”
All large online platforms are expected to abide by the new rules, with the voluntary commitment counting towards DSA compliance.
But Twitter’s now pulling out, which immediately raised the hackles of EU market commissioner Thierry Breton:
Twitter leaves EU voluntary Code of Practice against disinformation.
But obligations remain. You can run but you can’t hide.
Beyond voluntary commitments, fighting disinformation will be legal obligation under #DSA as of August 25.
Our teams will be ready for enforcement.
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) May 26, 2023
As Breton notes, while this is a voluntary element, the signal that this sends is that Twitter’s not willing to adhere to these tougher new obligations, which could see it fall foul of EU law. That, eventually, may see Twitter faced with fines and even suspension within EU member states if it fails to meet these obligations. Whether it chooses to play along or not.
This has been a key focus for EU regulators within the Elon Musk era at the app. Back in November, Shortly after Musk took over at Twitter, Breton met with Musk to underline the expectations they had for the company, and at that time, Musk vowed to play by the rules, and meet any requirements.
Then in February, in a preliminary compliance report, EU regulators noted that Twitter had failed to meet many of its reporting obligations, with Twitter’s submission being ‘short of data, with no information on commitments to empower the fact-checking community’.
Fact-checkers have been a point of contention for Musk, with his view being that the Twitter community itself should decide what is and is not correct, via supplementary elements like Community Notes.
Musk has repeatedly claimed that ‘mainstream media’ is lying to the public, and that Twitter can be the antidote to corporate-funded propaganda. But that stance could well put him in conflict with new EU requirements, which will place more burden on digital platforms to police misinformation in a timely and effective manner.
Musk’s arguments around what constitutes misinformation may be the key point of contention here, with Twitter likely unwilling to abide by laws that could see EU regulators deciding what’s true. But even so, Twitter could face stiff penalties as a result, with fines of up to 6% of Twitter’s European revenue if it’s found to be in violation of the Code.
Maybe it’ll be difficult for Twitter to adhere to such either way, given its massive staff cuts, which have also impacted its moderation teams.
It’ll be interesting to see what stance Twitter decides to take, if indeed it is found to be violating EU laws in three months time, and whether that leads to a bigger showdown for Musk’s free speech stance.