Elon Musk, Twitter and the European reaction

This tweet from Thierry BretonEuropean Commissioner for the Internal Market, reflects the influence the European Union wants to exert on the development of Elon Musk’s version of Twitter. This is one of the many reactions of European personalities to the moderation policy implemented by the new leader. Since the effective takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, this social network has been at the center of news and controversy. In question, a wave of total freedom “Made in Elon Musk” tremble at European regulations and in particular freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Under the libertarian influence, Elon Musk, in his words, wants to change Twitter to “a common digital public square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy way, without resorting to violence“. This view is opposed to that of the European Union, as Emmanuel Macron reminded us during the American show Good Morning America : “Freedom of expression and democracy are based on respect and public order. You can protest, you can express yourself freely, you can write whatever you want, but there are responsibilities and limitations.“. Thus, the heart of the debate centers on the management of Twitter by its leader which represents a source of concern for the old continent.

A now automated moderation policy

After breaking between 4,400 and 5,500 service provider contractss, which among other things took care of the moderation of the social network, it remains today less than 2,000 moderators in the whole world. Elon Musk favors automatic moderation to de-reference hateful content on the site. This content will be authorized, with the reservation that it will no longer be accessible in the news feed of individuals, only in their profile and therefore demonetizeds.

The Musk era also marks the end of moderation policy vis-à-vis the Covid-19 crisis and the fight against misinformation about vaccines. Remember that it was previously prohibited on Twitter to use the services to share false or misleading information on Covid-19 that is likely to cause harm.

In addition, nearly 12,000 previously banned accounts have been restored, another 50,000 banned accounts may follow. Among them can be mentioned accounts of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or Donald Trump’s account. All of these restored accounts were able to take advantage of the subscription access of “Twitter Blue” allowing for increased visibility.

Automated moderation that already shows weaknesses

This cocktail of moderation quickly showed its limits. According to New York Times, hateful content has been widely disseminated on the platform. The study conducted by Center for Fighting Digital Hate shows this upward trend: in the first week under Elon Musk’s leadership, we recorded 26,228 Tweets and retweets mentioning the word N*gger (translated by “negroes”), that is, a multiplication of 3 in 2022; a 60% increase in anti-Semitic messages; 4000 homophobic tweets per day, an increase of 58%. Terrorist content is also on the rise. According to Global Network on extremism and technologyin the first days of Twitter under the leadership of Elon Musk, 450 new Islamic State accounts were found, an increase of 69%.

This expansion of terrorist content on the platform as well as the reduction of moderation could undermine Twitter’s compliance with its duty to combat this content. valid, the rule said “TCO” (“terrorist content online”), applicable from June 7, 2022, requires online platforms to remove terrorist content within one hour or block it in the European Union. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to 4% of the company’s global turnover.

Elon Musk has disproved these figures: according to him, “Hate speech views (number of times the tweet has been seen) continues to decrease, despite a significant increase in the number of users! Negativity should and will be less accessible than positivity.”. He added: “Hate speech represents less than 0.1% of what is seen on Twitter”.

The European Union is imploding

Thierry Breton, in charge of the implementation of Digital Services Acthad an exchange via videoconference with Elon Musk, to remind him the basic principles ofand this regulation.

First principle, Twitter should contribute to the fight against illegal content by introducing a tool to facilitate its reporting. It also requires cooperation “trusted flaggers, whose role is to provide expertise in reporting content. Second principle, the transparency of the moderation policy, with the obligation to create an internal complaint handling system that allows users to challenge a penalty from the platform. The operation of algorithms and their use in targeting advertising content should be known to users and the European Commission. Finally, the third principle is active participation in mitigating the risks of misinformation and preventing crises: codes of conduct, promotion of verified information, deletion of accounts that carry false information, etc. .

The result of this exchange between Thierry Breton and Elon Musk gave hopeElon Musk will follow DSA. A stress test will take place at Twitter’s headquarters in early 2023 to assess its compliance.

Emmanuel Macron reminded Elon Musk of his obligations

During his visit to the USA, the President of the Republic and the head of Twitter met in Louisiana. Elon Musk is like this confirmed Twitter’s involvement in the Christchurch Appeal, which is a movement made up of states, businesses and NGOs fighting the spread of terrorist and extremist content on the internet. By participating in it call, Twitter is committed to promptly removing terrorist content, and to verifying that algorithms do not suggest extremist content to users. Elon Musk also promised the establishment tools more effective in verifying the age of users, detecting sexual predators and combating cyberbullying.

The case Elon Jet : from deteriorating freedom to censorship

Elon Musk’s latest decision has raised great concern for the future of the blue bird in Europe: Elon Musk has suspended several accounts of American journalists belonging to CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post who have tweet about the decision to suspend the account that relayed Elon Musk’s jet routes. The account “Elon Jet” use public data to automatically determine the location of Elon Musk’s Jet. Elon Musk, who says he fears for his safety and that of his family, justified these suspensions by “doxing (disclosing personal information about an individual on the internet without their consent).

Initially suspended for seven days, Elon Musk once again turned to the subscribers of his Twitter account to choose the duration of the suspension. Finally, the Twittersphere has spoken, and the accounts that posted the location will be unsuspended. So, the restoration of accounts should take place quickly.

However, Elon Musk’s decision generated anger within the European Union but around the world. Crossing the red line is near. Blocking journalists is an obstacle to press freedom as well as media pluralism.

The UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson described these suspensions as “dangerous precedent”. Moreover, the European Union is united: there is “a problem with Twitter” according to the German Foreign Minister, who also believes that “freedom of the press should not be turned on and off at ease”.

In addition, the Vice-President of the European Commission has qualified this decision “annoying” and invited Elon Musk not to cross “the red line” under penalty of penalty. except Digital Services Act which protects fundamental rights on online platforms, the Vice-President refers to Media Freedom Acta European text under development, and which, given the context, becomes more than legitimate.

This draft regulation provides among other things for the protection of editorial independence, the protection of media pluralism, the prohibition of the use of spyware against the media. Finally, the protection of online media content requires massive platforms to justify decisions to retract press articles when there is no misinformation.


As part of the collaboration with Master 2 in Electronic Media Law from the University of Aix-MarseilleHighlighters offers you a selection of articles between November 2022 and January 2023. More articles can be viewed on the website of Institute for Research and Studies in Information and Culture Law (IREDIC)

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