Europe wastes no time warning Musk about ‘arbitrary suspension of journalists’ • TechCrunch | Popgen Tech
European Union lawmakers wasted no time warning Twitter owner Elon Musk about “arbitrary suspension of journalists” after reports late yesterday that a number of reporters who had recently written about Musk had their Twitter accounts suspended without warning.
Věra Jourová, an EU vice-president for values and transparency, took to Twitter this morning tweet the bloc’s concerns about Musk’s actions – and to issue a stark warning of “red lines” and “sanctions” baked into recently updated EU rules for digital services, which she says require respect for media freedom and fundamental rights .
“News about arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is alarming. EU’s Digital Services Act [DSA] requires respect for media freedom and fundamental rights. This is strengthened under our #MediaFreedomAct. @elonmusk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions soon,” the EU commissioner wrote.
Among its many provisions, the incoming EU regulation imposes requirements on providers of intermediary services not to act in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner when applying their terms of service – and to protect fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and information, and including media freedom and pluralism.
Sanctions available to the EU under the regulation include fines that can scale up to 6% of global annual turnover – as well as powers for regulators to act swiftly against suspected infringements by introducing temporary remedial measures. In extreme cases, the Commission can also apply to EU courts to prevent access to an infringing service in the region.
In September, the Commission also proposed the European Media Freedom Act – which is intended to complement the DSA with additional measures to protect media freedom and pluralism in the EU, including measures against “unjustified removal by very large online platforms (above 45 million users in the EU). EU) of media content produced according to professional standards”.
Although this legislation has yet to be passed through the bloc’s usual co-legislative process – it could therefore take years before these targeted media freedom measures are confirmed in EU law.
Journalists suspended by Twitter in this (latest) wave of volatile Musk applications include Drew Harwell of the Washington Post, Ryan Mac of the New York Times and Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, as well as a number of other reporters from publications such as Mashable and the Intercept.
Musk implied the action was taken because the journalists violated Twitter’s rules on doxxing, which were amended on Wednesday to ban the sharing of live location information after Musk acted to suspend a bot account called @ElonJet – which has since June 2020 the tweeted. live location of Musk’s private jet using publicly available flight data.
The suspension followed an incident earlier this week, when Musk complained that a stalker was following a car his son was in.
A Twitter Spaces audio stream which quickly drew in around the journalist suspensions, presented by BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos, reported by the participants to the creator of the ElonJet bot, several of the suspended journalists themselves – who, hold on, were still able to attend close despite having their Twitter accounts suspended (apparently due to a quirk of Twitter’s legacy infrastructure related to the audio streaming bolt-on) — and, briefly, also attended by Elon Musk himself — before the stream was abruptly shut down.
During the live stream, snippets of which are (currently) circulating on TwitterMusk defended the suspensions by claiming the journalists violated Twitter’s rules against doxxing by sharing his real-time location.
“In the future, there is not going to be any distinction between journalists — ‘so-called journalists’ — and ordinary people,” Musk can be heard telling Notopoulos in recordings of the live stream shared on Twitter. “Everyone is going to be treated the same. You are not special because you are a journalist. You’re just a Twitter [user] — you are a citizen. So no special treatment. You doxx, you get suspended. End of story.”
Musk also suggested that what he called “ban evasion or trying to be clever about it — like, oh, I put a link to the real-time information” would be interpreted as an attempt to circumvent the policy ban — and therefore would that enforcement action go after anyone who simply shares links to accounts that post real-time information.
“You share the link to the real-time information, barring evasion — of course,” Musk said.
Harwell pushed back against what he suggested was Musk’s insinuation that he had shared his address – which Harwell said was “not true”. Musk countered with “it’s true”. To which Harwell then responded: “In the course of reporting on ElonJet we posted links to ElonJet which is now offline – which is now banned on Twitter, and of course Twitter is even tagging the Instagram and Mastadon accounts of ElonJet as harmful – with , we have to admit, admit, with the same exact link-blocking technique you criticized as part of the Hunter Biden New York Post story in 2020, so what’s different here and there?
“It’s no more acceptable to you than it is to me — it’s the same thing,” Musk replied, apparently ignoring the question. He followed that, after a brief Harwell interjection, by clarifying that he didn’t mean his own actions in suspending journalists for sharing links to ElonJet were unacceptable, repeating: “No, you dox, you get suspended end of story, that’s it.”
At which point, per attendees, Musk cut out of the live stream — and soon after, the Twitter Space was shut down by someone other than the host.
At the time of writing, there are reports that Spaces is unavailable and/or suffering from technical issues, with some Twitter users reporting errors or other problems launching a stream. And in the last few hours, Musk responded to a complaint about this on Twitter – briefly tweeting that: “We’re fixing a Legacy bug. Should be working tomorrow.”
Musk also took to the social network in the past few hours to respond to Twitter chatter criticizing the suspensions of journalists – claiming in one tweet that “criticizing me all day long is perfectly fine, but doxxing my real-time location and putting my family at risk is not”; and in another implying that accounts that violate the rules on doxxing will only receive a “temporary seven-day suspension.”
However, one of the journalists affected by the ban – Aaron Ruper – wrote (via a blog post on Substack) that he received a notice from Twitter saying his account was permanently suspended, so it’s anyone’s guess whether Musk will stick to a seven-day suspension rule or stick to his pique and decide never to hire the reporters again.
The alleged ‘policy’ for a seven-day suspension also appears to have been concocted by Musk at the moment after he polled Twitter users asking when accounts that had “my exact location in real-time” should be suspended.
The winning option from that poll was actually “now” – which took 43% of 535,233 votes. The option for ‘Seven days’ only got 14.4% of the vote – underscoring just how arbitrary Musk’s policy decisions at Twitter appear to be. (Also see, among others, his decision to issue a general amnesty to previously banned accounts (also with a few exceptions that appear to be based on Musk’s personal preferences, such as InfoWars’ Alex Jones remaining banned); as well as Musk choosing to undoing the permanent ban on former US President Donald Trump (who has so far refrained from tweeting as he has his own social platform to worry about these days) after Musk conducted another poll of Twitter users – rather than waiting for a content moderation board he previously claimed he would establish to make such decisions to be formed. So, uh, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Returning to the EU’s DSA, the regulation came into force last month but will only apply from 17 February next year – meaning that is the date when compliance is expected – which is the relevant deadline for a subset of larger platforms, so-called “very large online platforms” (VLOPs), which have additional obligations under the DSA – in areas such as algorithmic liability and the assessment and mitigation of societal risks.
It is still not clear whether Twitter will be designated as a VLOP under the DSA – or whether it will fall under the general regime for digital services – which does not include the extra obligations and has a longer grace period (until February 2024) before compliance kicks in.
The Commission will make these formal designations of VLOPs by February. But, as we’ve previously reported, Musk’s erratic piloting of Twitter since he took over in late October has clearly rattled Brussels — prompting a series of warnings and other actions by the Commission in recent weeks. Including a statement following reports of more layoffs at Twitter that it may consider more extensive criteria (than mere size) when deciding which platforms face the additional obligations that the DSA applies to VLOPs – such as the “Applicability” of resources dedicated to complying with the block’s rules.
Last month, the Commission also revealed that it had arranged to carry out a stress test of Twitter’s resources early next year – so it looks set to do the work (and ensure it shows its effectiveness) to that appropriateness review so it can slap a VLOP designation on Twitter if it sees fit (or, well, possibly under due process; it certainly won’t be accused of making arbitrary decisions of its own… ).
A spokesperson for the Commission discussed the DSA’s sanctions regime, telling TechCrunch the regulation gives it enforcement powers over VLOPs that are “similar to those it has under antitrust proceedings”.
“For smaller platforms, each Member State will clearly specify the penalties in their national laws in accordance with the requirements set out in the regulation, to ensure that they are proportionate to the nature and seriousness of the infringement, yet dissuasive to ensure compliance ,” it also noted.
The Commission also made a point of emphasizing that the DSA’s enforcement mechanism is not limited to fines. And also deploys some interesting new terminology in this context – with a reference to “rogue platforms” – that reads like it could very well have been coined with Musk in mind.
“The Digital Services Coordinator [aka a national regulator that enforces the DSA on non-VLOPs at EU Member State level] and the Commission will have the power to require immediate action where necessary to address very serious harm, and platforms can offer commitments on how they will remedy it,” the statement said. “For rogue platforms that refuse to fulfill important obligations and thereby endanger people’s life and safety, it will be possible as a last resort to ask a court for a temporary suspension of their service, after all relevant parties are involved.”