European officials have issued a stern warning to a prominent social media platform, formerly known as Twitter but now rebranded as “X,” over concerns that the platform has been hosting misinformation and illegal content related to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. The warning comes as a potential violation of the European Union’s key content moderation law, the Digital Services Act (DSA), and raises questions about the platform’s compliance with these regulations.
In a letter directed to Elon Musk, the owner of “X,” Thierry Breton, a high-ranking European commissioner, emphasized that the platform is subject to precise obligations concerning content moderation under the DSA. Breton’s letter pointed out that the company’s handling of content related to the ongoing conflict has cast doubts on its adherence to these regulations. “X” could potentially face substantial fines amounting to billions if regulatory authorities conclude that violations have indeed occurred. As of now, the company has not responded to these warnings.
The concerns raised in the letter revolve around the influx of misinformation and false claims pertaining to the war between Hamas and Israel, which have been attributed to various sources, including fake White House press releases, misleading news reports, and out-of-context videos from unrelated conflicts and even video games. Notably, many of these issues appear to have emerged following changes to the platform’s policies made under Elon Musk’s oversight.
For instance, the letter points out that “X” recently relaxed its criteria for accounts to qualify for newsworthiness exceptions, eliminating the requirement of 100,000 followers and replacing it with a “high profile” standard. This shift has raised uncertainty regarding the removal of content, particularly violent and terrorist content, on the platform.
Under the DSA, companies are obligated to promptly address content flagged as violating European laws. The letter warns that “X” may not be responding adequately to such requests, stating that reports of potentially illegal content are circulating on the platform despite being flagged by relevant authorities.
In response to the letter, Musk defended the platform’s approach, emphasizing transparency and open source principles. Breton countered by asserting that “X” should demonstrate its commitment to addressing fake content and the glorification of violence. He offered his team’s assistance to ensure DSA compliance, which the EU intends to enforce rigorously.
The European Union’s warning arrives at a time when misinformation surrounding the conflict continues to spread widely on “X.” For instance, a fake video resembling a BBC News report falsely claimed that Ukraine had smuggled weapons to Hamas, despite being labeled as manipulated media by the platform.
Musk’s influence over the platform has led to significant changes, including layoffs of content moderation and policy teams, sparking concerns from civil society groups about the increased threat of misinformation and hate speech.
Furthermore, Musk’s decision to replace traditional verification badges with a paid system has hindered users’ ability to assess the credibility of accounts, particularly during fast-moving news events. Additionally, Musk himself has contributed to the chaos by sharing and later deleting posts that recommended following accounts known for spreading misinformation.
In essence, the European Union’s warning underscores the platform’s legal exposure in the face of mounting misinformation and potential violations of the DSA. It also highlights the growing concerns surrounding content moderation and transparency in the age of rapidly evolving social media platforms.