Elon Musk’s Twitter is on a “collision course” with Brussels, as the social media platform faces new scrutiny under landmark EU laws to police Big Tech that come into force on Wednesday.
European regulators have grown particularly concerned following Musk’s chaotic rollout of the flagship premium subscription service Twitter Blue, according to three people with knowledge of their thinking, which saw its “blue tick” feature abused by impersonators on the platform.
Officials are also worried about the number of Twitter executives who have left who had a key role in dealing with regulators and the platform’s implementation of the EU’s new rules aimed at curbing the spread of illegal content online.
The Digital Services Act, which sets for the first time the rules on how Big Tech should keep users safe online, came into force on Wednesday in the first big overhaul of the laws governing their operation in more than two decades.
“The DSA will require Twitter, as a very large online platform, to have massive technical and legal compliance,” said a person with knowledge of the situation. “Many of these people have left or were laid off. It seems they are on a collision course with Brussels.”
The EU on Wednesday kick-starts its designation of which platforms meet the threshold of at least 45mn users and will have to adhere to the most stringent rules. This process will last four months. Twitter is expected to be in this category, said two people with knowledge of the rules.
Christel Schaldemose, an MEP who will chair a group on the implementation of the DSA, said Twitter could “very well be the case to test DSA for the first time”.
“If the EU is not making sure that DSA rules apply for Twitter, then it would be a failure,” she added. “I hope and expect the EU commission to act fast and firmly.”
Twitter representatives are expected to meet EU officials later this month to discuss what the new rules mean for the platform, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
Given the mass job losses it is unclear who is likely to attend on the Twitter side and if the company will stick to its previous “conciliatory line” to follow “one rule rather than [a] million different ones,” one of these people said.
But if Musk fails to address concerns over a growing number of fake profiles and trolls on the platform, Twitter could risk being banned by Brussels as part of the new rules, they warned.
The DSA gives the European Commission the power to ask a judge — in this case Ireland where Twitter has its European headquarters — to block its use from the single market. Twitter also faces fines of up to 6 per cent of its global turnover if it is found to be a repeat offender. Brussels can even order Twitter to change its behaviour and fine it periodically until the behaviour stops.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s executive vice-president in charge of competition and digital policy, and Thierry Breton, the commissioner in charge of the internal market, are rushing to make sure they employ enough staff to enforce the rules.
The commission said: “We have always been clear that we expect all platforms to comply with their commitments under EU law and rules.”
Global regulators have become increasingly concerned about the number of Twitter executives who have left who held key safety positions after Musk laid off half of the company’s 7,500 workforce. Brussels officials are also worried that the axing of some moderating staff will affect the platform’s ability to police its online content. Meanwhile, Twitter has cut its Brussels team to just two people.
Executives who have recently left include chief compliance officer Marianne Fogarty and chief privacy officer Damien Kieran, who also held the position of data protection officer — a critical contact point for EU regulators.
Twitter attempted to allay some concerns about its compliance with privacy rules this week in a meeting with the Irish Data Protection Commission, the lead European privacy watchdog.
Graham Doyle, Ireland’s deputy data protection commissioner, told the Financial Times that Twitter had installed an acting data protection officer and told him they had no intention of changing the “decision-making process around the processing of EU users’ data” outside of Ireland.
Doyle said the DPC would continue to monitor the situation and that Ireland would continue to be Twitter’s main supervisor.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Jude Webber in Dublin and Cristina Criddle in London