July 19, 2024

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The Intersection of Information and Insight

EU Investigates Elon Musk’s X for Spreading Illegal Content

3 min read

The relationship between Elon Musk and the European Union further deteriorated Monday, with the bloc launching a formal investigation into the way X has been run since the billionaire took over last year.

Senior officials from the European Commission said they were concerned about a range of new features that have been added to X under Musk, as well as the way violent content related to the Hamas attack on Israel was allowed to spread without consistently being labelled with a graphic content warning.

EU officials also said they would be investigating if users on the platform are being misled about the trustworthiness of people who pay for blue ticks—a feature that was previously reserved for verified users such as celebrities, public figures, or journalists. Since Musk’s takeover, the platform has allocated blue ticks to paying subscribers, a feature that researchers say have been leveraged to spread scams and disinformation.

Another focus for the investigation is whether Community Notes —X’s crowd-sourced fact check program—can work in languages other than English or intervene fast enough during elections.

Other concerns raised by the EU included the way users can notify X when they have seen illegal content and whether the platform is too focused on the English language in its content moderation operations. X has more than 2,000 English speaking moderators, compared to one Dutch-speaking moderator, and one Polish, according to a tally the company released last month.

With the investigation, X becomes the first major platform to face a formal probe for violating rules included in the European Union’s new Digital Services Act, which has the power to tell tech companies to change the way they operate or fine them up to six percent of their global revenue. “Today’s opening of formal proceedings against X makes it clear that, with the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are “too big to care” has come to an end,” said Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal markets commissioner. An in-depth investigation will now take place.

“X remains committed to complying with the Digital Services Act,” company spokesperson Joe Benarroch told WIRED, adding the platform is cooperating with regulators. “It is important that this process remains free of political influence and follows the law.”

The investigation is the beginning of a process where officials will carry out interviews and gather more evidence. “We take any breach of our rules very seriously. And the evidence we currently have is enough to formally open a proceeding against X,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president for digital affairs in Europe.

The announcement follows an initial EU investigation that was opened against X in October, also citing concern that graphic illegal content and disinformation linked to Hamas’ attack on Israel was able to spread widely. Back then, Musk clashed publicly with Breton. In a series of posts on X, Musk accused Breton of carrying out backroom dealing, prompting Breton to use his account to promote X competitor BlueSky.

“The EU’s relationship with X has been rocky ever since Musk took over,” says Mathias Vermeulen, director of Brussels-based data rights consultancy AWO. “Whereas Musk had told Breton back in May 2022 that the DSA is “exactly aligned with my thinking“, it is clear that the EU doesn’t exactly agree with that statement anymore.”

There is no deadline for when the EU investigation has to conclude.

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