EU launches investigation into X under Digital Services Act

Musk-owned platform first to face freshly minted rules

Elon Musk's X has earned the dubious honor of being the first online platform to have formal Digital Services Act (DSA) proceedings launched against it, with the European Commission accusing it of disseminating illegal content among other violations of the recently enacted rule. 

The preliminary investigation into X, which became public when commissioner Thierry Breton and Musk traded barbs on the platform formerly known as Twitter in October, has led the EC to believe that X has breached its DSA obligations in several areas.

X may be in violation of five DSA articles "linked to risk management, content moderation, dark patterns, advertising transparency and data access for researchers," EC EVP Margrethe Vestager said in a statement today.

"We take any breach of our rules very seriously," Vestager said, "and the evidence we currently have is enough to formally open a proceeding against X."

Musk's X: A total VLOP

X is defined as a "very large online platform," or VLOP, under the DSA, which was phased in over the summer. VLOPs like X, YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat (among others) are required to conform to specific obligations because the EU considers them to present a greater risk to the public due to their wide reach.

Any platform in the EU large enough to reach 10 percent of the population, or about 45 million people, is considered a VLOP under the DSA.

The only specific allegation leveled in the EC's notice had to do with disinformation on X in the wake of the Hamas attacks on Israel, which X largely failed to remove in the month following Musk and Breton's clash.

Regarding the dissemination of illegal content (like Israel/Hamas disinformation), the EC said X's mitigation measures weren't working, and that its notice and action mechanism for removing illegal content was questionable.

The EC also wasn't sure about the effectiveness of X's Community Notes feature, which allows approved users to add context to X posts and others to vote on their relevance and accuracy. Ostensibly added after the head of the moderation team resigned, and many of the mod staffers were sacked, reports indicate the tool may only be making misinformation problems worse.

Additionally, commissioners are concerned that X isn't meeting its DSA-mandated transparency requirements, saying that its initial investigation raised concerns there are "shortcomings in giving researchers access to X's publicly accessible data as mandated by Article 40 of the DSA, as well as shortcomings in X's ads repository."

The EU also has a feeling that X might have a deceptive user interface design, "notable in relation to … the so-called Blue checks" that Musk removed from vetted Twitter users and turned into a free-for-all of scams that have spread like wildfire through the platform.

The EC said its formal proceedings will function as a deeper investigation into X's suspected violations, and could result in interim enforcement measures or eventual non-compliance decisions. The Commission didn't set itself a timeline for the proceedings.

If found guilty of DSA violations, X may face fines of up to 6 percent of its global annual turnover, "periodic penalties" of up to 5 percent of its daily global turnover if its fails to comply with remedies or interim measures, and possible suspension from the EU entirely. 

When asked for comment, X directed us to a post on the platform by its Safety team, which said X was committed to complying with the DSA. "X is focused on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all users on our platform, while protecting freedom of expression, and we will continue to work tirelessly towards this goal," the Safety team said. ®

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