EU Commissioner Breton: Twitter faces penalties in the EU up to and including shutdown

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Twitter must comply with European law, explains EU Internal Affairs Commissioner Thierry Breton in an interview with the Funke media group. Otherwise, there would be consequences ranging from fines to the blocking of the platform in Europe.

The EU institutions are therefore closely monitoring how the short message service has changed since Elon Musk was taken over developed. “It's crystal clear that if Twitter doesn't follow these rules, we can impose fines. And if the violations of the rules continue, we can shut down the platform in Europe,” Breton said in an interview with the Funke media group, according to a Tagesschau report. Another meeting between the EU Commissioner and Musk is scheduled to take place before Christmas.

The fact that the EU is increasing the pressure has already leaked out in recent weeks. The requirements will soon be tightened again, above all due to the Digital Service Act (DSA). This is a body of law that will in future be the legal basis for the operation of online platforms in the EU. The DSA came into force in November, but will only apply from February 2024. Earlier application is conceivable, but the EU Commission still has to decide on this. So Musk still has time.

With the DSA, Twitter must observe specific deletion deadlines and review processes for illegal and user-reported content. In addition, moderation procedures are prescribed, which concern, for example, the handling of complaints that users can submit if content has been wrongly deleted. The Digital Service Act is based on the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), which is already in force in Germany.

Violations can have far-reaching consequences. Fines of up to 6 percent of the annual turnover are possible, and a complete blocking of an online platform is also conceivable. According to a ZDF report, this could be done by blocking the network. It is also possible that app store providers such as Apple and Google will no longer be allowed to distribute the Twitter app in the EU area.

Gaps in automated recognition

Twitter must therefore act. However, Musk is currently pushing his approach, which runs under the motto freedom of speech, not freedom of reach. Contributions with hate speech should be limited in reach and demonetized, so that there is no financial incentive to spread the relevant content.

When it comes to detecting hateful and illegal content, Musk wants to rely primarily on automated systems – also due to his wave of layoffs. Ella Irwin, Twitter's new head of trust and safety, confirms the course in an interview with Reuters. She appears confident. “The most important change is that the team is fully empowered to act quickly and as aggressively as possible,” said Irwin. Moving away from manual moderation processes is a step forward.

In general, however, systems based on AI systems are not considered sufficient to date to replace human moderation. This is all the more true for Twitter because too many employees responsible for operating the relevant systems have been laid off. It is currently more than questionable whether Twitter's moderation concept is compatible with EU law.

According to the numbers presented by Musk, the reach of hate speech content is currently falling. The data is based on internal evaluations, but methodological information is missing, so that the statements cannot be checked at the moment. The first studies by external researchers, on the other hand, go in a different direction. Hate speech content is therefore becoming more widespread in the social network and is even increasing. According to research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the number of such posts has increased since Musk's acquisition, reports The Verge. The number of interactions with corresponding posts also increased. Based on Musk's general amnesty for blocked accounts, it is also feared that a large number of right-wing extremists will return to the platform.

Conflict with Apple on hold

Meanwhile, the dispute with Apple for the time being – at least publicly – settled. As Musk announced on Twitter during the week, there had been a misunderstanding. However, Apple's CEO Tim Cook assured him credibly that there was never any intention of removing Twitter from the App Store.

But what remains is the smoldering conflict over the 30 percent fee that is due in the App Store. To avoid these, Musk has also delayed the reboot of Twitter Blue with the $8 subscription, reports The Verge. Actually, the revised verification system with the blue ticks should start this week.

As Musk is said to have announced, Apple will also fully return to the platform as an advertiser. This is reported by Bloomberg reporter Kurt Wagner. Amazon is also said to be returning to Twitter with an advertising volume of $100 million per year, reports Zoë Schiffer from Platformer Newsletter, citing a person familiar with the processes.

“They sound like the guy playing the violin on the Titanic”

It is essential for Twitter that major customers return with popular brands because these account for a large part of sales, especially compared to other platforms. The problem persisted until well into November that Twitter's advertising customers had hardly booked any contingents for the coming year. The reason: Due to Musk's erratic behavior, including the radical cuts in the workforce and the moderation requirements, Twitter is a high-risk platform for advertising partners. It is the brand safety requirements that have practically forced advertising companies to act.

Pre-sold contingents are relevant for Twitter, however, because they create planning security for sales development. For the social network, it could therefore be even more challenging in the coming year to convert the reach into revenue.

In order to increase sales, Twitter is supposed to offer generous discounts and additional reach granted to advertising partners. It remains questionable whether these offers are sufficient to win back further major customers. “You sound like the guy who played the violin on Titanic,” an advertising executive told the Financial Times. He doesn't assume that companies will take the risk.