EU Official Warns Elon Musk That Changes Are Needed at Twitter

Thierry Breton,

the EU’s commissioner for the internal market, held a video call with Mr. Musk on Wednesday to discuss the new legislation, called the Digital Services Act. He said Mr. Musk—who completed his purchase of Twitter in October—stated he planned to get the service ready for the new rules, but Mr. Breton added that more work would be needed.

“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,” Mr. Breton said, according to a summary of the call provided by his office.

If a company is found in noncompliance with the new law, it can face orders to comply and fines of up to 6% of its annual revenue—and, potentially, blocking of services in the case of certain repeated infringements.

The law is expected to start applying to social-media companies with more than 45 million users, such as Twitter, by around the middle of next year.

Following the call, Mr. Musk retweeted a company statement that said Twitter is continuing work to “keep the platform safe from hateful conduct, abusive behavior” and that it remains “committed to providing a safe, inclusive, entertaining, and informative experience for everyone.”

Twitter has been in turmoil since Elon Musk took over. To get a sense of what’s going on behind the scenes, The Wall Street Journal spoke with former Tesla and SpaceX employees to better understand how Musk leads companies. Illustration: Ryan Trefes

Mr. Breton said the European Commission, which will be responsible for enforcing the new rules, plans to conduct what he referred to as a stress test at Twitter’s headquarters early next year. He said that would allow the company to prepare for a future outside audit under the new legislation.

The conversation between Messrs. Musk and Breton comes after regulators in Europe have raised questions in recent weeks about the company’s ability to comply with the new law following large-scale layoffs and widespread departures.

Twitter no longer has active staff members in Brussels, following a wave of layoffs, departures and staffers locked out of company systems, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. But the company has kept contact with EU officials, meeting at its Dublin office last week with the bloc’s justice commissioner. At the meeting, Twitter reiterated “our commitment to the DSA and tackling hate speech,” according to a tweet from a Twitter staffer.

Mr. Breton said compliance with the new rules will require Twitter to have a sufficient combination of artificial intelligence and human resources to reinforce content moderation, according to the summary of the call. “I look forward to progress in all these areas,” he said.

The Digital Services Act will require large social-media companies to maintain systems for removing content that European national governments deem to be illegal, as well as processes to allow for appeals of overzealous takedowns, among other requirements. It also mandates regular outside audits of the companies’ processes. Some technology executives say the transparency requirements to report to regulators on levels of moderation and different types of activity deemed harmful could be among the most challenging to implement.

The company, under Mr. Musk, recently stopped enforcing a policy that was meant to tackle Covid-19 misinformation, and Mr. Musk said he would reinstate suspended accounts on the platform if they haven’t “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.”

In Twitter’s statement on Wednesday, the company said that what had changed was a new spirit of public experimentation but that its policies haven’t changed.

Mr. Musk has previously said that the platform should intervene to comply with local laws, and that it “cannot become a free-for-all hellscape,” but generally shouldn’t take steps beyond that.

He bought Twitter for $44 billion in October and has made sweeping changes to the platform, including broad layoffs.

It isn’t the first time Mr. Breton has cautioned Twitter or Mr. Musk. In April, Mr. Breton warned that the company would need to follow the bloc’s new rules for tackling illegal content and content that regulators consider harmful under Mr. Musk’s ownership.

In May, before the Twitter purchase was completed, Mr. Breton met with Mr. Musk in the U.S. and discussed the coming DSA. In a video published on Twitter with the two men, Mr. Musk—who has called himself a free-speech absolutist and described content moderation as censorship—said they had shared a good conversation.

“I think it’s exactly aligned with my thinking,” Mr. Musk said to Mr. Breton in the video. “I agree with everything you said, really. I think we’re very much of the same mind and I think anything that my companies can do that would be beneficial to Europe, we want to do that.”

Mr. Breton remained vocal about Mr. Musk’s acquisition after the deal closed. “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules,” Mr. Breton tweeted, hours after Mr. Musk completed the deal in late October tweeting, “the bird is free.”

Write to Kim Mackrael at [email protected] and Sam Schechner at [email protected]

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