Tesla billionaire and future Twitter owner Elon Musk says he is “very much in line” with the European Union on the Digital Services Act, a package of regulations for web platforms. Musk appeared in a short video partnered with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton to reaffirm his support for the DSA, which – among others – requires major platforms to monitor illegal content and assess the risk of harm their services pose, including through disinformation.
“I think it’s right in line” with the future goals for the Twitter platform, Musk said in a short video posted by Breton. “It was a great discussion and I really think I agree with everything you said. I think we largely agree, and I think anything my companies can do that would be beneficial for Europe, we want to do that.” Musk followed suit. a tweeted reply to the movie. “Great meeting! We are largely on the same page,” he says.
The video reinforces previous statements that Twitter moderation must “comply with the laws” of a country in which it operates, and Musk’s priorities have some clear similarities with the DSA. For example, both are very committed to transparency: Musk has proposed making Twitter’s recommendation algorithms “open source”, while the DSA would require major platforms to explain their algorithms to the EU. Similarly, the DSA is asking platforms to assess the risk of harm posed by bots and fake accounts, while Musk has pledged to “authenticate all people” on Twitter, despite concerns from some users who are working anonymously for security reasons. And while it’s not mentioned in this video, the separate Digital Markets Act (DMA) affects practices such as Apple charging 30 percent on App Store purchases, something Musk has called a “de facto global tax on the Internet.”
But the EU will also require companies to identify and mitigate potential social risks from their platforms, potentially from both legal and illegal content. It asks companies to work with the EU to fight disinformation and promote democracy, and encourage the use of “crisis protocols” that could limit the flow of misinformation during pandemics, earthquakes or other natural disasters. That could require stricter moderation of users’ speech in a way that the First Amendment in the United States government would not allow. Meanwhile, Musk’s other companies like Tesla rely heavily on markets like Germany, so Twitter can’t just ignore these regulations.
Musk has defined “freedom of speech” as expression that conforms to the laws of a particular country, regardless of what those laws allow. “If people want less freedom of speech, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect.” he tweeted end of April. But that poses challenges on a global platform like Twitter. While the DSA only applies to users in Europe, the policy can be hard to reconcile with Musk’s commitment to speech maximalism in the US, as moderation in one country can affect the content people see around the world. And as Musk’s reference to his many companies suggests, he has a lot to lose by angering the EU when those goals conflict.