Are Musk and Twitter on their way to colliding with the “red lines” in Europe?

LONDON – Elon Musk’s decision to suspend several prominent journalists on Twitter has drawn condemnation not only in the United States but further afield, as backlash to the move in Europe highlights what could be a looming showdown with the billionaire.

Leaders on the continent lined up to criticize the move on Friday, adding to domestic pressure on Twitter’s new owner and suggesting his efforts to reshape the social media platform could leave him on a collision course with tough new European rules aimed at big tech companies.

Musk reinstated the arrested journalists early Saturday after a Twitter poll, but he has previously drawn a rebuke from the European Union and the United Nations.

“Media freedom is not a game,” Melissa Fleming, the United Nations’ chief of global communications, said in a tweet Friday, adding that she was “deeply disturbed” by the journalists’ comment on the site.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry tweeted that “press freedom cannot be turned on and off on a whim,” while French Industry Minister Roland Lescure tweeted Friday morning that he would suspend his account in protest until further notice. His account is still active, but no tweets have been made since.

‘Red lines’

Perhaps most notable, however, has been the reaction of top officials in the European Union, the 27-nation bloc that is taking an increasingly strong stance on regulating the online space.

The EU Digital Services Act requires respect for media freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced by #MediaFreedomAct, European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said in a Twitter post.

“There are red lines, and penalties, soon,” she said.

The Digital Services Act will introduce a new sweeping set of rules designed to limit the power of technology companies and promote the “fundamental rights of Internet users online.” Effective in 2024, it will make platforms and search engines more accountable for illegal and harmful content online, including hate speech, hoaxes and disinformation.

“Platforms must ensure that their terms and conditions are clear, understandable, transparent, and respectful of media freedom,” a spokesperson for Jourová told NBC News in an emailed statement.

They added, “They should not be arbitrary or discriminatory in their decisions.” Non-compliance in the case of very large platforms and search engines will result in fines of up to 6% of the company’s global turnover, according to Gorova’s office.

They added: “Rogue platforms that refuse to comply with important obligations and thus endanger people’s lives and safety, it would be possible as a last resort to ask the court to temporarily suspend their services, after involving all parties involved.”

This broad jurisdiction confirmed that Friday wasn’t the first time Musk had infuriated the European Union over his management of Twitter.

In the wake of internal conflict at the company in November, EU top official Thierry Breton warned Musk to comply with the bloc’s content moderation laws “Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly strengthen content moderation and protect freedom of expression, resolutely tackle misinformation, and limit targeted advertising,” according to a transcript of a phone call released by his office.

Musk also came under fire from European regulators when the company attempted to replicate its shooting-without-notice practices to rebrand Twitter as “hardcore” with mass layoffs at its European headquarters in Dublin.

But despite the forceful rhetoric, experts warned that the EU may struggle to enforce its laws and hold Musk to account for moderation in content and freedom of expression as vigorously as he has been warning.

“All you have to do is look at the EU’s approach to Hungary and Poland, both countries eroding democracy and liberal values. Any kind of application can take a lot of time,” said Joseph Downing, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Aston University’s Europe Centre. Years.

“Elon Musk and Twitter are smart. He can wake up one morning and snap his fingers, and by 4 o’clock, the world has changed.” “The EU can condemn them, they can look at the laws and have a discussion, months or years down the line.”

Musk accused the journalists of sharing private information about his whereabouts, which he described as “essentially assassination coordinates.” Several of the suspended reporters were reporting on the latest change to Twitter’s rule about accounts tracking private jets and Musk’s rationale for enforcing it, which included allegations about a stalking incident he said affected his family.

“The European legal arsenal is not sufficient to oppose arbitrary acts of censorship,” Ricardo Gutierrez, the European Union’s general secretary, told reporters.

“While platforms pervade everyday life, governance across the spectrum of their activities is patchy and insufficient,” he added.

EU officials have also estimated that they will add more than 100 full-time employees by 2024 to enforce the Digital Services Act and other new rules related to digital competition. Member states will also have to appoint more people to monitor smaller platforms and coordinate with Brussels.

But the legislation is designed more to ensure that social media companies remove harmful content than to petition to keep certain content — even when that content comes from news services, according to Downing.

“The Digital Services Act is not prepared for this kind of problem, because it’s not designed for it,” said Downing, speaking of tech journalists’ comment Thursday.

“There was never a perception that journalists would be banned from Twitter, because that is not what Twitter does,” he added.

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