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28 Oct, 2022 19:40

EU threatens Twitter over freedom of speech

Thierry Breton has warned the platform's new owner that he will have to “fly by our rules” in Europe
EU threatens Twitter over freedom of speech

Elon Musk’s celebratory tweet upon completing his $44 billion takeover of Twitter has apparently struck a nerve with a top EU official, who warned the billionaire that, at least in Europe, speech won’t be completely free on the social media platform.

The exchange between Musk and Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for the internal market, began on Thursday night, after the billionaire closed on his controversial acquisition of Twitter. Musk posted a tweet saying, “The bird is freed,” apparently alluding to the company’s mascot and his plans to make the platform a bastion of free speech. Breton replied a few hours later, saying, “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules.”

The EU’s Digital Services Act, which was approved earlier this year, will require major social media platforms to have strong content moderation systems that can quickly censor such material as “hate speech,” incitement to terrorism, and information that the bloc’s bureaucrats deem to be false. When the new law goes into effect in 2024, fines for violations will range as high as 6% of the company’s annual revenue, which is equivalent to more than $300 million in Twitter’s case.

Since unveiling his takeover bid for Twitter in April, Musk has declared himself a “free speech absolutist” and spoken repeatedly of the need for a functioning democracy to allow citizens to speak freely. He said on Thursday that he was buying Twitter because it was “important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”

Critics, including distraught Twitter employees, have raised fears that Musk will make the platform “unsafe” by allowing “harmful” content. In May, more than two dozen activist groups, including organizations funded by billionaire George Soros, called on Twitter advertisers to boycott Twitter if Musk completed his takeover of the company. The groups called the deal a “direct threat to public safety.”

Musk posted an open message to advertisers on Thursday, assuring them that Twitter wouldn’t become “a free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences.” He said the company would adhere to all applicable laws and would be “warm and welcoming to all.” But he also spoke of buying the company because he loves humanity and sees the need for an open marketplace of ideas.

An early indicator of how Musk will lean in terms of freedom versus regulating offensive commentary may have come on Friday, when Twitter unlocked the account of rapper Kanye West. Twitter and other platforms booted West earlier this month, after he posted a tweet saying, “I’m going death con 3 on Jewish people.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed doubts in April that a “full palette” of opinions would be allowed on any Western social media platform. “We have already heard from Europe that they will not allow absolute freedom there,” he said, referring to an earlier warning to Musk by Breton. At the time, the commissioner told the Financial Times, “At least we know what to tell him: ‘Elon, there are rules. You are welcome, but these are our rules. It’s not your rules which will apply here’.”