Can European regulation constrain Elon Musk?

Proof that the case is beginning to seriously worry, 26 NGOs across the Atlantic, fighting against misinformation, racism or sexism, sent a letter to Coca-Cola, Apple and other Disney on Monday. “As the top advertisers on Twitter, your brand risks being associated with a platform amplifying hate, extremism, health misinformation and conspiracy theorists”, deplore the associations. Elon Musk has indeed affirmed that, when the takeover would be effective, he intended to put an end to any policy of moderation on his social network.

“Whether it’s cars or digital platforms, any company operating in Europe must comply with our rules”, Thierry Breton reminded him. The European Commissioner for the Internal Market explicitly refers to the Digital Service Act (DSA), which was the subject of an agreement just a week ago between the Commission and the European Parliament. This regulation will directly concern Twitter, in connection, precisely, with the moderation of content. The DSA intends to impose on social networks an obligation of means, proportionate to the size of the platform (the obligation of result only exists, since 2021, for the deletion of terrorist content). The regulation does not specify the type of content to be moderated, referring for this to the laws of each of the member countries. This will involve facilitating the reporting of problematic content, having teams of moderators in each language of the continent, reacting quickly and, if necessary, transmitting to the authorities information on the author of the offending message. Social networks will also have to publish regular reports on their moderation activity. In this regard, the DSA ultimately boils down to reminding companies of their obligation to comply with the law.

Maximum penalties not applied

If tomorrow Twitter does not comply, it will risk a fine of up to 6% of its worldwide turnover, or even, in the event of a repeat offense, exclusion from Community territory. The DSA also brings other obligations that will concern Twitter, such as making recommendation algorithms auditable, or the prohibition on using certain personal data such as sexual orientation or political opinions for advertising purposes.

The problem is that the European institutions do not provide the means necessary to enforce the regulation. Thus, only 40 people will pilot the Digital Market Act in 2023, an agreement validated in March and which aims to ensure that digital platforms respect the rules of free competition. In the same vein, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), applied in all Member States since 2018, is not generally respected by Gafam. And the maximum penalties – up to 4% of global turnover – are not applied. Thus, if each year the Cnil condemns Google for breach of the RGPD to fines – 50 million euros in 2019, 60 million in 2020 and 150 million in December 2021 – these could amount to 10 billion.

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