‘Elon, There Are Rules’: EU Says Twitter Must Comply With New Digital Services Act

Jerri-Lynn here. I’ve yet to wrap my head around the implications of Elon Musk acquiring Twitter. Nor have I spent any times studying the EU’s new Digital Services Act.

But the all-too obvious first impression is that Musk and the rules are on a collision course. In fact, Thierry Breton’s statement makes that conflict explicit. And we all know Musk is not known for his ability to adhere to rules – even long-settled ones. Just ask the SEC.

Musk and his press enablers are busily spinning his action as a victory for free speech.  Hmm.

By Kenny Stancil. Originally published at Common Dreams

The European Union on Tuesday warned Elon Musk that Twitter, now owned by Tesla’s chief executive, must comply with the bloc’s new law that aims to halt the online spread of hate speech and other illicit content, or risk substantial fines or a continent-wide ban—possibly foreshadowing a global regulatory fight over the social media platform.

“If Twitter does not comply with our law, there are sanctions.”

Less than 24 hours after Musk bought Twitter in a $44 billion deal, E.U. internal market commissioner Thierry Breton delivered a stark message to the world’s richest man via the Financial Times.

Breton’s comments come just days after lawmakers in Brussels approved the Digital Services Act, a landmark piece of legislation that seeks to minimize the harmful effects associated with social media and e-commerce by requiring Big Tech firms to remove content and products deemed illegal by E.U. member states.

During a Tuesday news briefing, European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke reminded Musk that “our Digital Services Act applies to all major platforms, to ensure their power over public debate is subject to democratically validated rules to better protect fundamental rights online.”

When Musk took control of Twitter on Monday, he called free speech “the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and described the Silicon Valley-based app on which hundreds of millions of people rely for news as “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

Journalist Anand Giridharadas countered that Musk is “doing is what plutocrats have been doing… branding themselves the solution to the very problem they are.”

In his pitch to take over Twitter, Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist” who has used the app to attack regulators and critics, vowed to weaken content moderation on the site. Republican lawmakers are hopefulthat under Musk’s ownership, Twitter could reinstate former President Donald Trump, who was banned for repeatedly violating the platform’s rules governing hate speech and misinformation, culminating in the January 6 Capitol insurrection.

Breton, meanwhile, said that he wanted to give Musk a “reality check” before he loosened any of the platform’s content moderation policies. If Twitter fails to comply with the Digital Services Act, the E.U. commissioner warned, it could be prohibited in Europe.

“Anyone who wants to benefit from this market will have to fulfill our rules,” Breton told FT. “The board [of Twitter] will have to make sure that if it operates in Europe it will have to fulfill the obligations, including moderation, open algorithms, freedom of speech, transparency in rules, obligations to comply with our own rules for hate speech, revenge porn, [and] harassment.”

“If [Twitter] does not comply with our law,” he added, “there are sanctions—6% of the revenue and, if they continue, banned from operating in Europe.”

As the newspaper reported:

The Digital Services Act forces the like of Twitter to disclose to regulators how they are tackling content such as disinformation and war propaganda. The groundbreaking rules are part of a bigger push by Brussels to curb the power of large online platforms, including Facebook and Google. Last month, the E.U. also unveiled the Digital Markets Act, aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech, including a ban on platforms promoting their own services ahead of rivals.

“Be it cars or social media, any company operating in Europe needs to comply with our rules—regardless of their shareholding,” Breton tweeted on Tuesday.

“Mr. Musk knows this well,” Breton added. “He is familiar with European rules on automotive, and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.”

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Jerri.

    Yesterday, it was interesting to see the talking heads on various channels perform somersaults over what constitutes hate speech. It seems that anything that challenges MSM and establishment narratives is hateful. “Content moderation”, as brought to us by the likes of Nick Clegg, Helle Thorning Schmidt (or Grace Mugabe and Gucci Helle as she was called at Save The Children) and Alan Rusbridger at Facebook, is not the same as censorship. Censorship is what POOT’N does.

    https://twitter.com/timand2037/status/1515011970528911368 : Florence Gaub’s comments about RUSSIA are considered fine.

    1. fresno dan

      Hate speech seems to be getting ever closer to fact speech – questions that can’t be asked, reality that can’t be acknowledged. Is the Azov battlion a neonazi group…or is it hateful to say that? Is it hateful to point out the MSM “reporters” completely fouled up the Hunter Biden story? But what I really want to know: was the Steele dossier hateful???
      OR is it hateful not to hate those who should be hated …

  2. The Rev Kev

    Elon may be a billionaire but he knows how the game is played. He will make all the appropriate noises in public but for the security establishments in the EU/US he will roll over, though he may bring back people like Scott Ritter as window dressing for “freedom.” How do I know this? Because Elon made that plain in a tweet he sent out-

    ‘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.’

    Get it? Free speech is not his responsibility but is up to people to demand by having laws changed. Good luck with that, matey-


    At least we have the pleasure of watching people’s heads explode in Twitter HQ.

    1. urdsama

      Actually I would argue he has no idea how the game is played. He’s just been able to get away with whatever he wants due to lack of enforcement, and because he is has a cult following which praises his every word. The few times he was slightly held to task, he lost his mind. Following teslaq has been very instructive and may help predict how this con-man will react if he actually is held accountable.

      And while I agree it will be fun to see some “liberals” get irate over this, many more marginalized people will be even more impacted than they currently are.

      Twitter is a mess, but under musk it will be a hellscape.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > Twitter is a mess, but under musk it will be a hellscape.

        Personally, I regard Twitter not being especially profitable as a sign of health.

        If Twitter simply fired the entire content moderation department, and gave users decent tools for blocking and muting, and possibly a way to rate limit responses, for dogpiling, would that be so very bad? Especially with a decent and public set of defaults? (Interestingly, this would also create a market for content moderation at the account level, which is where that function should be placed, not at the platform.

  3. Thuto

    The corporate welcome basket extended to Tesla to set up shop in Berlin will be a handy lever to pull for the digital authoritarians in Brussels in case Musk starts to believe his onw PR and steps out of line. If they make it onerous for Tesla to operate and be competitive in the EU market to discipline Musk for his free speech ideological crusade, this will give him reason for pause. Ultimately, his wealth is largely concentrated in ownership of tesla stock so I doubt he’ll have the stomach for a fight with those who may yank the juicy European market from him. He’ll probably quietly acquiesce to the Brussels bureaucrats and maintain the free speech absolutism for his US fanbase.

    1. Carolinian

      Free speech is an “ideological crusade”? Is the US Constitution now going to be subordinate to the dictates of Brussels?

      1. Thuto

        By his own admission, Musk is on a crusade to restore free speech as he defines it on the twitter platform. The problem is that what he defines as free speech and what those who oppose his acquisition of Twitter define as free speech (the content moderation crowd) are diametrically opposed, and both definitions are underpinned by ideology/ideological leanings. Twitter is a global platform so the EU will feel that it has the right to enforce its own laws on EU territory, hence the point I made that free speech absolutism on the platform will likely be a US centric phenomenon (even this absolutism will likely be watered down as Rev Kev suggests up-thread).

      2. PKMKII

        As opposed to Brussels being subordinate to the dictates of the US Constitution? The EU setting rules for business operations in the EU does not impend on the scope of the US Constitution, which end at the American border.

      3. feox

        In Europe, it certainly should be. The US imperial power and universalist ideology need to be constrained abroad.

      4. Yves Smith

        Oh, so the EU has to accept the US Constitution when it conflicts with EU laws? Do you realize how arrogant your position is?

        How about Twitter moderate content for EU users to comply with EU laws? Oh but that might take effort and cost money. Can’t ask a company just valued at $44 billion with a billionaire owner to do that, now can we?

        And as for “free speech,” that applies to speech only in government contexts. It does not apply to private speech, otherwise newspapers would be obligated to publish every letter to the editor submitted to them.

        The argument was that FB and Twitter should be subject to free speech requirements because they currently serve as the town square. I don’t think that dog remotely hunts but Congress was threatening to impose requirements on them due to their market power.

        1. Carolinian

          Hate speech laws do move private speech into the orbit of government and they are the main thrust of the EU laws as I understand it. In TV we used to have the Fairness Doctrine which did indeed regulate political speech to promote fairness, not the TV station’s right to censor or block.

          I’m making a philosophical argument as I see it, not a legal one. I agree with people like Greenwald or Turley that this attitude that everybody gets to have their say is fundamental to the American version of democracy. And speaking for myself here’s suggesting that Europeans should imitate the best features of our American version of government, not the worst. IMO of course.

          1. Yves Smith

            I have no idea what you mean by “Hate speech laws do move private speech into the orbit of government.” Hate speech is not defined in the US and is not a crime but it amounts to malevolent remarks directed at individuals or groups. It rises to a government concern when it is meant to provoke criminal activity, as in violence. Then it is criminal. What is considered by laypeople as hate speech can be used to substatiate a charge of a hate crime, and hate crimes are often additional charges to other crimes of violence like rape and assault. So-called hate speech can also serve to prove motive in crimes.

            And the purpose of free speech laws is solely to promote robust political debate, not to make it OK to say to a man in a bar, “Your girl has a nice ass” and not expect to be punched out.

  4. molon labe

    “The groundbreaking rules are part of a bigger push by Brussels to curb the power of large online platforms”–nonsense–they are not curbing this power, they are taking it for themselves.

      1. Bugs

        How can one be jailed in France for “wrongthink”? There is some strict hate speech law, you can’t defame or libel someone, and it’s illegal to deny the Holocaust but is that what you mean?

        On the Digital Services Act, it remains to be seen how EU Member States will harmonize it and there are no enforcement authorities in place today. There are some aspects that give me worry. like “trusted flaggers”, but overall it looks like some well-tailored legislation to get a handle on scamming and harassment online. That said, it is like anything EU, neoliberal in design and leaves too much to markets.

        This is a quick primer: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/faqs/digital-services-act-questions-and-answers

        1. Acacia

          Carolinian may be referring to a case like that of Alain Soral who, earlier this month, was once again sentenced to serve time in prison.

          From a USian perspective on freedom of speech, I really don’t know how to evaluate such a case, but France has significantly different policies on what happens if you say the “wrong” things in public.

  5. Alyosha

    Hearst is an illustrative example for this situation. Then again, journalists I know generally point the finger at corporate control as the primary cause of our current issues with actual journalism. I suppose corporate journalism would have a lot of issues with non-corporate journalism/social media.

    I dislike Elon, don’t really care about Twitter, and assume that no form of social media is free of potential for manipulation. If I had any illusions, the conflict in Ukraine has disabused me of them.

    1. Carolinian

      I don’t care about Twitter either–perhaps part of the outrage is that the MSM see it as their little club–but do care about free speech. Musk is a dubious character who nevertheless is correct about all those other dubious characters floating around Silicon Valley. Caitlin suggests he isn’t really going to buck the tide. However we shall see. The tide pushing back against speech controls may be a lot stronger than people think.

    2. MarkT

      “…journalists I know generally point the finger at corporate control as the primary cause of our current issues with actual journalism.”

      Replace journalists/journalism with scientists/science and this statement applies to my experience as a scientist.

  6. Michael McK

    Given that most of Musk’s wealth is tied up in Tesla stock I am surprised anyone would lend such a huge amount of cash to him. I have never understood why Tesla is worth so much. It hasn’t created any real technology, just very poorly manufactured cars that any big auto maker could do itself, better. My understanding is that most of Tesla’s cash flow in some way comes from clean vehicle credits that the big auto makers buy from them in lieu of producing their own “zero emission” models.
    Any serious move by a major brand with real factories and experience or regulatory change (let alone an actual, real, radical strategy for fighting climate change) would cripple Tesla.
    I have long thought the stock is just a virtue signaling/don’t miss out bubble which has far outlasted my craziest expectations. It’s just a brand. I’d feel fine about everyone exposed to the mess losing their shirts, until I learned CalPERS was the last bigger fool.
    On a Musk related note, I highly recommend the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car”..

    1. Yves Smith

      They aren’t lending to him. They are lending to fund the deal, so v. Twitter. PE deals have 70% debt to equity as normal.

      On top of that, the private wealth areas of banks lend v. stock all day but I am pretty sure Musk pledged no assets.

  7. marku52

    So far I’m totally unimpressed with “fact checkers” that cancel doctors discussing treatments, groups of the vaccine damaged, and alternative views of our latest war.

    If I have to put up with some umpleasant stuff, that may be the price to pay. So far our watchers are doing nothing but sanitizing the status quo.

  8. drumlin woodchuckles

    Musk plays by his own calvinball rules. If the EU really means that Musk must follow EU rules in EUrope, then the EU must be prepared to ban Twitter from existence throughout the whole geographic space of EUrope. If EUrope is afraid to do that, then the EU will be forced to admit that it does not have any rules that Musk can be forced to follow, and that the EU is Musk’s private playground for Musk to play all the calvin Twitterball he likes.

    So . . . .is the EU ready to swing its Mighty Tire Iron of EU Rules into the grinning teeth of Elon Musk? The outcome depends upon the answer.

    1. Yves Smith

      Twitter would be the perfect place for the EU to show spin. It’s not de facto important plumbing like Google and not used by businesses to advertise like FB. It’s comparatively small fry and does not have much in the way of natural allies in the EU….save pols and top Eurocrats who use it for occasional messaging.

      The EU can levy heft fines for some violations….up to 10% of parent company revenues over the relevant time frame. So it may not need to ban to inflict pain. But not sure how large the fines are for hate speech etc. I suspect that would lead to a demand to take down or ban the account in the EU…not sure what fines apply. Since those would be assumed to be isolated and the EU likely did not anticipate a recidivist violator, they may not be substantial enough. So then yes, the next move would be to seek a ban at the level of EU ISPs. Being an ISP is very low margin, they are sure to comply.

      But the reality is it takes forever for the EU to go through its normal regulatory processes.

  9. larrymotuz

    With apologies to Lewis Carrol:

    “The question is, ” said Alice, “whether you can make words (er, like freedom of speech) mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Elon Musk “which is to be master—that’s all.”

    Then, what inevitably ends free speech, the lie, preferably repeated, can be cast as its defender.

  10. TBellT

    Left unsaid is Musk’s Aspergers. If he’s participated in any sort of behavioral therapy it doesn’t really show, given his addiction to shit posting.

    I presume this type of behavior will also probably get in the way of completing the transaction, let alone complying with EU law if he happens to close it.

    1. Mikel

      This. Left unsaid is alot of questions about the selection for this trait among the finance and tech world.

  11. moss

    In my view the bigger issue, that this article does not even allude to, is the requirement by the Digital Services Act for all users to have a digital ID, aimed to end online privacy. Musk has previously indicated this will be required by his Twitter, in any case.

    The article states the EU legislation has been approved yet the linked story say the actual wording has not yet been finalised. Parts of the CTsphere are being lit up about this legislation which otherwise does not appear to be gaining the attention I consider it deserves.

    One wonders what may happen with external sited like NC. Will they be blocked altogether from the EU if they do not require user digital ID?

    1. Yves Smith

      NC is not a social media site. We are a publisher. I can guarantee the EU will not require publishers like the Daily Mail or the Financial Times to have digital ID for the readers who comment on their sites.

  12. Ben

    I tried to look up how many of Twitter users are from Europe. his was the closest thing I could find.


    The top 3 are the USA, Japan and India. Japan at #2 with 58.95 million is interesting. The first EU country to appear in the chart is France at 12th position with 10 million users. Of course, UK is at No. 6, but I don’t know if UK will apply the EU law in this.

    At first glance it seems that EU is not a large enough market as for as Twitter is concerned. One option for Musk is to simply comply with the EU law inside EU. The Grauniad article mentions three key rules in the act: 1. Banning advertising aimed at children or based on sensitive data such as religion, gender, race and political opinions.2. Allowing EU governments to request removal of illegal content, including material that promotes terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech and commercial scams. 3. Forcing social media platforms to allow users to flag illegal content in an “easy and effective way” so that it can be swiftly removed. It’s possible to do these with geography-specific algorithms. The manpower overhead for enforcing the rules may affect the bottom line. The other option is to fight the rules. Yet another option is to just pack up and leave EU.

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