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27th Feb 2024

Landmark EU case to test Musk's X on toxic content

  • X CEO Elon Musk (r) and EU commissioner Thierry Breton (third from right) in the US earlier last year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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The European Commission, on Monday (18 December), launched an investigation into the X platform, formerly called Twitter, under new rules countering the spread of illegal content online.

The move, faster than many expected, marks the first formal proceeding under the brand-new Digital Service Act (DSA), which also opens the door for the EU executive to impose fines.

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Notably, the first announcement of the EU's investigation was made public by the commission on X.

The probe follows a preliminary investigation into the dissemination of illegal content by large online platforms in the context of the attack against Israel by Palestinian group Hamas on 7 October.

Already in October, senior EU officials raised concerns over the spread of antisemitic content in X, when single-market commissioner Thierry Breton wrote to the CEOs of X, Alphabet's Google, Meta's Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube.

"Today's opening of formal proceedings against X makes it clear that, with the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are "too big to care" has come to an end," said Breton.

The commission, Breton said, will now carry out an in-depth investigation into X.

This entails an examination into whether the platform, owned by Elon Musk, has breached DSA obligations for countering the dissemination and amplification of illegal content and disinformation in the EU.

They will also look into transparency and the user design of one of the most popular platforms in the world, with about 112m monthly active users across the 27-nation European bloc.

This includes looking into X's so-called 'Blue checks' and 'Community Notes' — a fact-checking initiative launched in 2021, which relies on contributors to tackle disinformation.

The announcement was welcomed by the centre-left Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament as "good news". "Excellent work by the EU Commission. DSA will be enforced," said socialist Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose.

"What is illegal in the real world is also illegal online. The rules of the game are clear and anyone who does not respect them must take responsibility," said Slovenia's minister for digital transformation Emilija Stojmenova Duh.

X, for its part, said in a statement that the company remained committed to complying with the DSA, while underlying that scrutiny must remain "free of political influence".

The DSA is a new law on curbing online hate and illegal contact which entered into force in November last year.

It empowers the commission to fine X and other platforms up to six percent of their global turnover.

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