After Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter was officially accepted on Monday, the European Union threatened on Tuesday to sanction or even ban the platform if it doesn’t comply with a newly passed tech moderation law.
Thierry Breton, the European Union’s economics commissioner, told Financial Times on Tuesday that Twitter must comply with the new Digital Services Act (DSA) or it will face “sanctions – 6pc of the revenue and, if they continue, banned from operating in Europe.”
The EU reached a provisional agreement for the DSA over the weekend nearly a year-and-a-half after it was first proposed. The legislation “sets out an unprecedented new standard for the accountability of online platforms regarding illegal and harmful content. It will provide better protection for internet users and their fundamental rights.”
Although the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and European Convention on Human Rights spells out protections for free speech, it carves out harsh regulations for “hate speech” and how it’s defined.
The DSA mandates large platforms and search engines “take risk-based action to prevent the misuse of their systems,” as well as undergo audits, safeguard personal data, react to public crises, establish mechanisms for flagging content, and also provide transparency measures.
The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2024.
The United Kingdom is attempting to pass a similar bill, the Online Safety Bill, that would mandate online platforms take action against “harmful content” both illegal and legal.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters this week that “all social media platforms must be responsible and that includes protecting their users from harm on their sites.” Lucy Powell, UK’s Minister for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, went further in targeting Musk and said “Musk should be held accountable for his business model.”
Musk has described himself in recent weeks as a “free speech absolutist” and expressed his belief that free speech is “having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.” He also made a number of tweets backing free speech in recent days as the world awaited the much-anticipated next moves from Twitter.
On Monday ahead of the announcement of his accepted purchase offer, Musk tweeted, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”
After the news was announced, critics of the offer lamented that Musk’s ownership and anticipated lifting of speech restrictions and suspensions would strike irreparable damage to “democracy” and “free speech.”
On Tuesday, Musk tweeted, “The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all.” He later clarified, “By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”