Elon Musk's more free speech-aligned approach to content moderation looks set to cause him more challenges, with the European Union today launching formal proceedings to investigate Musk's X platform over possible breaches of the region's new Digital Services Act (DSA).
Under the DSA, large digital platforms are required to meet various new guidelines around the restriction of illegal content, and the spread of misinformation, among other elements. According the EU, it believes that X may not be up to standard, so it's now taking steps to investigate X's new approaches under Musk.
As per the EU announcement:
"On the basis of the preliminary investigation conducted so far, including on the basis of an analysis of the risk assessment report submitted by X in September, X's Transparency report published on 3 November, and X's replies to a formal request for information, which, among others, concerned the dissemination of illegal content in the context of Hamas' terrorist attacks against Israel, the Commission has decided to open formal infringement proceedings against X under the Digital Services Act."
EU investigators will specifically be exploring four elements:
- Compliance with DSA obligations related to countering the dissemination of illegal content
- The effectiveness of X's "Community Notes" in addressing misinformation
- Limitations on data access, restricting research into X's publicly accessible data (as mandated by Article 40 of the DSA)
- Deceptive design elements in X's UI, specifically in relation to checkmarks linked to subscription products
Based on this, X will need to outline the effectiveness of each of these measures, which EU officials have suspicions may not be up to the required standards for these requirements.
Which they probably aren't. Elon Musk has made it his personal mission to enable more free and open speech in the app, which X has summarized into its 'Freedom of Speech, Not Reach' approach. Under that ethos, X has implemented lesser penalties and restrictions for content that breaks its rules, while it's also putting increased reliance on its Community Notes crowd-sourced fact-checking system to police such at scale. Which various investigations have found is not an adequate solution.
But Elon's view is that society actually benefits from seeing speech that you may not like or agree with, as that then enables broader debate and discussion around these potentially sensitive topics. Which may be true in some respects, but at the same time, allowing hate speech and misinformation to reach millions of users through social platforms is clearly counter productive, and as the owner of a large-scale platform, Musk does have a responsibility to play his part in addressing such, as mandated by the EU and various other regulatory bodies.
Though Elon himself doesn't seem to have much respect for regulation.
Musk has already clashed with EU regulators in the past over their proposed moves to implement stricter moderation rules. And while those past disagreements have seemingly been resolved quickly, Musk remains adamant that he is acting as a crusader of free speech, which is his fundamental push in running X.
And while many agree with him, research suggests that Musk's changes are allowing more hate speech and propaganda to proliferate in his app, under the guise of that free speech banner. Which could be causing more harm, and now, Musk and his team will have to justify such to EU officials, or face fines, and potential bans, in the region.
It'll be interesting to see what the EU investigation concludes, and how Musk takes that. Will he look to change X's rules in line with EU laws (worth noting that Elon has committed to allowing free speech within the laws of each region), or could he look to pull X from Europe in protest?
That would be an extreme response, but Elon does seem to believe that he represents the majority view, and in that context, he could look to take action in the hopes of garnering support from users.
It's another challenge for Musk's X vision, which continues to attract scrutiny, and is likely to see even more ahead of the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election.
UPDATE: Elon has responded to the EU announcement:
Are you taking action against other social media?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2023
Because if you have those issues with this platform, and none are perfect, the others are much worse.
Musk has also re-stated that Community Notes is an effective tool for addressing the spread of misinformation in the app.
Though, interestingly, when Community Notes disagreed with one of Elon's statements last week, he claimed that it was being "gamed by state actors", and was therefore not correct.
Interesting. This Note is being gamed by state actors. Will be helpful in figuring who they are.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 10, 2023
Thanks for jumping in the honey pot, guys lmao!
So on one hand, Community Notes is an effective way to address misinformation, and on the other, according to Musk himself, the system is being gamed by organized groups.
Not sure that's going to help his EU case.