How Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase could put him against the EU

Elon Musk: What will happen to Twitter now?

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Tesla owner Elon Musk has lashed out at the “extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech” after he was criticised for his $44bn (£35bn) takeover of Twitter. One of the world’s richest men, his bid has provoked a backlash across the world, with Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren calling it “dangerous for our democracy”. And it seems the EU could become one of Mr Musk’s most vocal critics, as Twitter’s board members accepted Mr Musk’s bid just days after the bloc passed new online content rules.

Brussels has adopted legislation that would introduce limits to online speech where it is abusive or harmful.

Legislators have reformed standards across the social media space, changing the ways Twitter and its competitors at Facebook and Google filter speech.

They passed the Digital Services Act on Saturday, April 23, which could sting Mr Musk with debilitating fines if he attempts to muscle his political ideology into his new purchase.

The content rules introduced for the EU’s 27 members will require Twitter to remove some types of content.

Prohibited content will include what the bloc deems illegal, such as hate speech and threats of violence.

The legislation would also compel social media firms to carry out risk assessments and track accounts or communities that propagate the content.

Lawmakers have also included new checks on misleading speech following the Covid pandemic and war in Ukraine.

At the same time, they will ask companies to increase transparency around their algorithms.

Failure to comply would exact a hefty toll, with proposals including fines of up to six percent of global revenue.

The legislation will activate before the end of 2022 when Mr Musk will have had some time to convey his long-term plans for Twitter.

But in some ways, the EU’s legislation aligns with early rumours of how he intends to run his new company.

In a Tweet posted following confirmation of his purchase on April 25, he said that free speech is “the bedrock of a functioning democracy”, adding that Twitter serves as a “digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated”.

He added that he hopes to make Twitter “better than ever” with a selection of “new features”.

These would include making algorithms “open source”, aligning with requests outlined in the Digital Services Act, while also cracking down on spam bots and “authenticating all humans”.

Mr Musk has also hinted that he would add an edit button to posts, a proposition with which 73 percent of 4.4 million voters agreed following a Twitter poll.

As he prepares to change the platform, he will have to reckon with the EU at large and domestic online legislation.

While no longer a member, the UK Government is currently working to impose limits of its own via the Online Harms Bill.

The bill, introduced in Parliament on March 17, would see British officials require companies to “protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their stated terms and conditions”.

Punishments for noncompliance could prove even more severe than those proposed by the EU, allowing Ofcom to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global revenue.

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