Twitter faces renewed scrutiny over disinformation in Europe – POLITICO | Popgen Tech


Twitter is likely to stumble in its first major test when it comes to combating propaganda and disinformation in the European Union.

Six months ago – long before it was taken over by Elon Musk – the platform agreed to step up such efforts under an updated EU anti-disinformation charter, the European Commission’s so-called code of practice on disinformation, which takes effect from Friday.

But Musk’s social media network appears woefully unprepared for the task after the tech mogul lifted Twitter’s ban on COVID-19 pandemic misinformation within weeks, banning controversial users such as former US President Donald Trump and many of his staff fired That suggests a grim outlook for Twitter’s compliance with the code, according to some of those involved in the charter’s task force.

With Musk personally promoting conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation that have caused real harm in the past, it’s hard to be optimistic, said Carlos Hernández, head of public policy at the Spanish-language fact-checking organization one of the signatories who have been working with the charter’s task force for the past six months.

In another sign of Musk’s plans for the platform, Twitter’s board of experts that advises the company on its content policy, the Trust and Safety Council, was disbanded this week.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton warned Musk in a video call in late November about Twitter’s “huge job ahead … to tackle disinformation with determination.”

More than 30 signatories of the code of practice – including technology companies such as Twitter, Meta, TikTok and Google – will have to ensure that those who peddle falsehoods cannot make money on their platforms, as well as label political ads and make more data available to researchers.

The code is not binding, but if companies sign up to it, they can use the code’s provision to offset some of their regulatory risks in the separate Digital Services Act (DSA), an online content law that carries fines of up to 6 percent of a company’s global revenue for breaches. The DSA will apply from summer 2023 for the largest companies and early 2024 for the others.

Companies will then have until January 16 to give the Commission a detailed report on how they have fared on some of the more than 100 measures they promised to follow in the previous month. After that, the biggest platforms will have to submit their reports every six months; smaller ones will submit once a year.

The report “will be a first test case on how seriously the risk of disinformation is handled, including how adequate the budget and staff of these companies are to maintain their commitment among us [code] against disinformation,” said Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission.

Under the DSA, many large online platforms will face new obligations to curb potential harm, such as the spread of disinformation and fake news during crises, or face hefty fines. Repeated violations could also lead to them being banned in the EU, although that threat is unlikely to be carried out because, in other regulatory areas such as competition, European enforcers have almost never used the full powers at their disposal. Instead, the block has a record of incremental maintenance.

The EU’s code of practice on disinformation, presented in 2018 as a tool to encourage tech companies to tackle falsehoods more forcefully, has been strengthened this year with more precise objectives.

A new task force has also been set up with signatories including platforms, advertising bodies and non-profit organisations, as well as European media regulators and the EU’s Department of Foreign Affairs, to work on the charter, collaborate and exchange information on coordinated foreign managed manipulation campaigns during elections.

Camino Rojo, Twitter’s head of public policy for Spain, still comes to those meetings after Twitter’s Brussels office emptied, according to three people involved in the group.

Still, that didn’t ease some concerns.

“The people who negotiated it for a year, who understood the code and the exact expectations, are all gone,” Hernández said. “It’s impossible to replace that knowledge in a few weeks.”

Neither Twitter nor Rojo responded to requests for comment.

Twitter’s content moderation teams have either been fired or left the company since Musk’s takeover in October. Under the disinformation charter, the company agreed to “dedicate sufficient financial and human resources” to tackle disinformation and to detail in its report the teams working on the charter, across the bloc and in the various European languages. It is unclear who, if anyone, on Twitter is looking into this problem, which is linked to the EU’s code of practice on disinformation.

But another person involved in this work, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also pointed out that Twitter had already slowed its work on implementing the code before Musk’s arrival.

“Twitter hasn’t been very involved in the process for a long time — even before Musk took over,” said a member of the task force, who requested anonymity.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said: “We expect Twitter to meet their obligations and report on their measures – including on tackling [COVID-19] disinformation – in their first report, due out in January.”


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