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EU threatens X with DSA penalties over spread of Israel/Hamas disinformation

The European Commission has publicly rebuked Elon Musk’s X for what it says is its role in disseminating disinformation and illegal content surrounding the Hamas/Israel conflict. And the EC is threatening penalties under the Digital Services Act if the platform doesn’t take measures to stop it.

In a letter posted to X, EC commissioner Thierry Breton said the EC has indications that X posters were sharing fake and manipulated images, photos and video from prior conflicts and even footage from video games that were being passed off as content from the current conflict.

“This appears to be manifestly false or misleading information,” Breton said in his letter. “Let me remind you that the Digital Services Act sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation.” 

Breton posted his letter yesterday at 1820 UTC, and gave Musk 24 hours to send “a prompt, accurate and complete response.” It’s unclear if anything formal has been sent (neither the EC nor X replied to questions) but Musk did reply to Breton’s X post.

“Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports,” Musk xeeted. “Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them. Merci beaucoup.”

Breton responded, essentially telling Musk to quit playing games. 

“You are well aware of your users’ – and authorities’ – reports on fake content and glorification of violence. Up to you to demonstrate that you walk the talk,” Breton told the billionaire, who responded once more telling him that X “takes our actions in the open. No back room deals.” 

EU better fall in line, VLOP

The DSA that Breton alluded to in his letter is one half of the EU’s new rules for big tech along with the Digital Markets Act, but it’s the DSA and its content moderations requirements that Musk’s platform has run afoul of – and not for the first time. 

The EC identified 17 Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs), Twitter/X among them, in April. VLOPs are defined in the DSA as being any online platform able to reach 10 percent of the EU’s population, and the Act requires them to conform to a stringent list of content moderation obligations. 

As was noted when the DSA went into effect in late August, stress tests of VLOP compliance at several social media platforms, Twitter/X again among them, led the EC to conclude that improvements were needed at multiple companies. In early September, the EC said disinformation coming out of Russia had actually increased since mid-2022 when the major platforms all signed a voluntary disinformation code. 

Twitter, as it was called at the time, was a signatory, but pulled out of the deal in May of this year. As Breton noted then, “[DSA] obligations remain. You can run but you can’t hide … our teams will be ready for enforcement.” 

As of late last month, “X, former Twitter, who is not under the Code any more, is the platform with the largest ratio of mis/disinformation posts,” EC VP Vera Jourova said, based on a report from TrustLab. Since Hamas’ attack on Israel and the resulting flare-up in violence, X has been accused again of allowing disinformation to proliferate by multiple watchdogs and individuals.

Far from being a toothless law, the DSA comes with serious penalties for VLOPs like X, whether they’re onboard with being regulated or not. The DSA gives the Commission the ability to levy fines of up to six percent of global turnover, can require immediate platform changes and, if a VLOP decides to still not play ball, suspend it from the EU bloc entirely.

Whether Musk will cave before X is banned in Europe is unclear, but those financial backers and yet-to-return advertisers will probably be anything but happy if access to the eyeballs of 448 million EU citizens is lost. ®

source: The Register