The commissioner’s name is Thierry Breton, and as reported by Ars-Technica his comments were unambiguous. “We welcome everyone. We are open but on our conditions. 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.’” Breton is referring to strict new laws about content moderation for social networks in Europe that became law recently. Tea Digital Services Act (DSA) will require companies to take greater responsibility for the content that appears on their platforms. This includes efforts to reduce the spread of disinformation and being transparent about their algorithms. It also calls for establishing measures to stop the spread of illegal good, services, and content. It is the most severe crackdown on user-generated content on social media networks thus far by any nation or group of nations. Failure to comply with the provisions of the DSA will incur severe penalties as well. Companies will be forced to pay up to six percent of their annual revenue if found in violation. If that’s not enough of a disincentive, a company can also be banned from operating in Europe.
This saber rattling seems to be setting up a showdown between Musk’s idea of “free speech” and the EU’s strict new laws. For his part, Musk clarified what he means by free speech the day after the Twitter buyout was announced. Musk tweeted, “By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.” His tweet was a clarification of a previous tweet which stated, “The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all.”
It’s a stark reminder of the minefield Musk is wading in to with his purchase of Twitter. Musk has long railed against censorship on the platform despite his own record on the subject. Tesla famously fired an employee who had pointed out errors in the company’s self-driving cars. Also in 2018 Musk allegedly threatened to sweat to postpone from Seeking Alpha for criticalizing Tesla. And who can forget when he offered $5k to the person tracking his flights to shut his service down? Musk was so disillusioned with Twitter he has floated the idea of making an alternative to it. He obviously has passed on that idea and decided to just “fix” Twitter based on his own ideals.
He has his work cut out for him. It will be tricky to have one set of content moderation rules for Europe, and one for the rest of the world. This is terra incognito for all big tech firms though, and it will also hugely affect Facebook and Google. For what it’s worth, Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey thinks if anyone can return Twitter to its founding principles, it’s Elon. “Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is “maximally trusted and broadly inclusive” is the right one. This is also @paraga‘s goal, and why I chose him. Thank you both for getting the company out of an impossible situation. This is the right path…I believe it with all my heart,” he tweeted.
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