(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk risks giving a helping hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin if Twitter Inc.’s recent staff cuts prevent the platform from rooting out propaganda about the war in Ukraine, one of the European Union’s top officials warned.
Failing to take on fake or misleading content online could “lead to the very quick abuse” of Twitter, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova, who’s spearheading efforts to tackle online disinformation, said in an interview with Bloomberg. This includes making sure the platform doesn’t become a hub for Russian propaganda.
“By not acting actively against the propaganda, which means to remove the pieces of propaganda, the disinformation, then you are actively supporting the war,” she said. “This would be a very tricky and maybe dangerous endeavor or adventure for Mr. Musk” who “wants to be seen as somebody who is helping Ukraine.” She cited Musk’s Starlink satellite system, which has been providing internet communications for both Ukrainian citizens and its military.
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The comments are the latest warning shot over the possible side-effects of mass resignations and layoffs after Musk closed his $44 billion purchase of the world’s most influential social media platform -- including its ability to abide by a raft of EU legislation including the bloc’s strict General Data Protection Regulation and new Digital Services Act.
“If the network is easily used by Russian propaganda” then “you are very probably breaching the rules of sanctions because you might be distributing the content developed by the sanctioned media, like Russia Today and Sputnik,” said Jourova, a former Czech politician.
Twitter is the only platform Jourova uses, having decided years ago to leave Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook. Now, she’s wondering whether to keep her account after material such as Chinese pornography recently appeared on her feed.
Meanwhile, Jourova said the billionaire owner, who has vowed to bring “free speech” back to Twitter, shouldn’t underestimate the EU and the hefty sanctions Twitter could eventually face if it fails to abide by the bloc’s EU rules.
The DSA, which targets harmful content and disinformation on platforms, is still in its infancy and Twitter has a lot to do in coming months to comply before enforcement kicks in starting next year.
Fines under the law could go to up to 6% of Twitter’s annual global sales, while GDPR breaches can come with fines of as much as 4%. The commission has also vowed to conduct a “stress test” next year on Twitter’s efforts to comply with content moderation laws.
“I feel that there is not enough understanding from Mr. Musk and maybe some other people around him, that Europe is advanced,” said Jourova. And “that after many years of thorough analyzing how to approach the digital sphere, we decided to regulate, and that we mean it, that the regulation has to be respected by everybody who wants to do business on EU territory.”
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(Updates with further Jourova comments from sixth paragraph)
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