EU threatens X with DSA penalties over spread of Israel-Hamas disinformation
Meta also told to clean out election-bothering deepfakes from its empire – or face the music
Final update 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 on Tuesday, 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.
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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. ®
Updated to add
Breton earlier today wrote to Meta as well, though that letter primarily accuses the Facebook owner of not keeping election-related deepfakes in check on its apps and websites, and said fines under the DSA may be imposed if an investigation is carried out and non-compliance is found.
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The commissioner said he had been made aware of "reports of a significant number of deepfakes and manipulated content which circulated on your platforms and a few still appear online." Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was reminded the DSA rather frowns upon faked content that could influence elections, a number of which are coming up.
The US tech goliath was invited to let Europe know the measures that will be taken to curb that deepfake propaganda as folks go to the polls.
The Euro man also mentioned "certain platforms" are allowing "a surge of illegal content and disinformation" to spread through the EU, so multiple players are in Europe's sights. Meta was also reminded to tackle Hamas-Israel disinfo and other misinformation on its platforms as required by the DSA.
In short: X could face punishment for Hamas-Israel disinfo, and Meta could be punished for election-interfering deepfakes. Meta was also urged to crack down on Hamas-Israel disinformation.
Final update on October 12
On Thursday, the European Commission formally indicated it is investigating "X's compliance with the DSA, including with regard to its policies and practices regarding notices on illegal content, complaint handling, risk assessment, and measures to mitigate the risks identified."
This stems from what the body said was reports of "the alleged spreading of illegal content and disinformation, in particular the spreading of terrorist and violent content and hate speech." X now has until the end of the month to address various concerns raised by the commission, which may launch formal proceedings against the biz. X could face fines amounting to five percent of its daily global revenue.
Meanwhile, X CEO Linda Yaccarino wrote back to Breton to say Twitter has removed hundreds of Hamas-affiliated accounts since conflict broke out.