Musk’s X hit with EU’s first investigation of Digital Services Act violations

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Written By Sedoso Feb

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Getty Images | Chris Delmas

The European Union has opened a formal investigation into whether Elon Musk’s X platform (formerly Twitter) violated the Digital Services Act (DSA), which could result in fines of up to 6 percent of global revenue. A European Commission announcement today said the agency “opened formal proceedings to assess whether X may have breached the Digital Services Act (DSA) in areas linked to risk management, content moderation, dark patterns, advertising transparency and data access for researchers.”

This is the commission’s first formal investigation under the Digital Services Act, which applies to large online platforms and has requirements on content moderation and transparency. The step has been in the works since at least October, when a formal request for information was sent amid reports of widespread Israel/Hamas disinformation.

The European Commission today said it “decided to open formal infringement proceedings against X under the Digital Services Act” after reviewing X’s replies to the request for information on topics including “the dissemination of illegal content in the context of Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel.” The commission said the investigation will focus on dissemination of illegal content, the effectiveness of measures taken to combat information manipulation on X, transparency, and “a suspected deceptive design of the user interface.”

The illegal content probe will focus on “risk assessment and mitigation measures” and “the functioning of the notice and action mechanism for illegal content” that is mandated by the DSA. The commission said this will be evaluated “in light of X’s content moderation resources,” a reference to the deep staff cuts made by Musk since purchasing Twitter in October 2022.

Community Notes and paid checkmarks under review

The information manipulation portion of the investigation will evaluate “the effectiveness of X’s so-called ‘Community Notes’ system in the EU and the effectiveness of related policies mitigating risks to civic discourse and electoral processes,” the announcement said. The transparency probe “concerns suspected shortcomings in giving researchers access to X’s publicly accessible data as mandated by Article 40 of the DSA, as well as shortcomings in X’s ads repository,” the commission said.

Musk’s decision to make “verification” checkmarks a paid feature will figure into the commission’s probe of whether the X user interface has a deceptive design. The commission said it will evaluate “checkmarks linked to certain subscription products, the so-called Blue checks.”

The investigation will include more requests for information, interviews, and “inspections,” the commission said. There is no legal deadline for completing the investigation.

“The opening of formal proceedings empowers the Commission to take further enforcement steps, such as interim measures, and non-compliance decisions. The Commission is also empowered to accept any commitment made by X to remedy on the matters subject to the proceeding,” the announcement said.

In a statement today, X said it is committed to complying with the Digital Services Act and is cooperating with regulators. “It is important that this process remains free of political influence and follows the law,” the company said. “X is focused on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all users on our platform, while protecting freedom of expression, and we will continue to work tirelessly towards this goal.”

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