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Europe isn’t convinced by Elon Musk pitch he will make Twitter (TWTR) a bastion for free speech as Brussels warns the world’s richest man that it must stick to EU rules.
EU’s commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, said Elon Musk knows that companies operating in Europe must stick to its rules, including new legislation which will force major technology firms to tackle illegal and harmful content online.
Breton said: “We welcome everyone. We are open but on our conditions. At least we know what to tell him: ‘Elon, there are rules. You are welcome but these are our rules. It’s not your rules which will apply here," he told the FT.
“Whether on online harassment, the sale of counterfeit products… child pornography, or calls for acts of terrorism… Twitter will have to adapt to our European regulations which do not exist in the United States,” Breton said.
On 23 April, two days before Musk secured his Twitter deal, the European Union agreed its Digital Services Act (DSA), which will grant it the right to police how platforms moderate content, halt the spread of disinformation, and keep users safe.
Not doing so could open up platforms to bans or sanctions of up to 6% of their global turnover. In Twitter’s case this would amount to around $305m (£240m).
The DSA is expected to come into force in the coming months, and includes banning advertising aimed at children or based on sensitive data such as religion, gender, race and political opinions.
It also will allow EU governments to request removal of illegal content, including material that promotes terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech and commercial scams.
The rules force social media platforms to allow users to flag illegal content in an “easy and effective way” so that it can be swiftly removed.
“No matter the shareholders, Twitter will from now on have to totally adapt to European regulations,” said Breton, who handles the EU’s industrial policy portfolio and was a key backer of the new laws.
“The law will now be very clear, much clearer in Europe than in the United States, with more rules in Europe than in the United States,” he said.
Asked about a possible return of former US president Donald Trump to Twitter, Breton said that the DSA also regulates decisions on who to ban by setting conditions and possibilities for appeal.
“We will have very clear, very precise, very democratic, very readable rules for deciding on bans,” Breton said. “With us, banishment will obviously be possible, in certain cases necessary, but under democratic control.”
In buying Twitter, Musk has vowed to take a robust free speech stance on the platform, raising concerns that it will become a host for hate and propaganda and leave the onus on users to combat bullying and misinformation.
Watch: What Elon Musk’s Twitter deal means for Tesla, SpaceX, and his other ventures