The European Union on Tuesday warned Elon Musk that Twitter, now owned by Tesla’s chief executive, must comply with the bloc’s new law that aims to halt the online spread of hate speech and other illicit content, or risk substantial fines or a continent-wide ban—possibly foreshadowing a global regulatory fight over the social media platform.
“If Twitter does not comply with our law, there are sanctions.”
Less than 24 hours after Musk bought Twitter in a $44 billion deal, E.U. internal market commissioner Thierry Breton delivered a stark message to the world’s richest man via the Financial Times.
“Elon, there are rules,” said Breton. “You are welcome but these are our rules. It’s not your rules which will apply here.”
Breton’s comments come just days after lawmakers in Brussels approved the Digital Services Act, a landmark piece of legislation that seeks to minimize the harmful effects associated with social media and e-commerce by requiring Big Tech firms to remove content and products deemed illegal by E.U. member states.
During a Tuesday news briefing, European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke reminded Musk that “our Digital Services Act applies to all major platforms, to ensure their power over public debate is subject to democratically validated rules to better protect fundamental rights online.”
When Musk took control of Twitter on Monday, he called free speech “the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and described the Silicon Valley-based app on which hundreds of millions of people rely for news as “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
Journalist Anand Giridharadas countered that Musk is “doing is what plutocrats have been doing… branding themselves the solution to the very problem they are.”
In his pitch to take over Twitter, Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist” who has used the app to attack regulators and critics, vowed to weaken content moderation on the site. Republican lawmakers are hopeful that under Musk’s ownership, Twitter could reinstate former President Donald Trump, who was banned for repeatedly violating the platform’s rules governing hate speech and misinformation, culminating in the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
Breton, meanwhile, said that he wanted to give Musk a “reality check” before he loosened any of the platform’s content moderation policies. If Twitter fails to comply with the Digital Services Act, the E.U. commissioner warned, it could be prohibited in Europe.
“Anyone who wants to benefit from this market will have to fulfill our rules,” Breton told FT. “The board [of Twitter] will have to make sure that if it operates in Europe it will have to fulfill the obligations, including moderation, open algorithms, freedom of speech, transparency in rules, obligations to comply with our own rules for hate speech, revenge porn, [and] harassment.”
“If [Twitter] does not comply with our law,” he added, “there are sanctions—6% of the revenue and, if they continue, banned from operating in Europe.”
As the newspaper reported:
The Digital Services Act forces the like of Twitter to disclose to regulators how they are tackling content such as disinformation and war propaganda. The groundbreaking rules are part of a bigger push by Brussels to curb the power of large online platforms, including Facebook and Google. Last month, the E.U. also unveiled the Digital Markets Act, aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech, including a ban on platforms promoting their own services ahead of rivals.
“Be it cars or social media, any company operating in Europe needs to comply with our rules—regardless of their shareholding,” Breton tweeted on Tuesday.
“Mr. Musk knows this well,” Breton added. “He is familiar with European rules on automotive, and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.”
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