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    Twitter tweaks foreshadow EU showdown over new rules

    LONDON (AP) – Self-proclaimed free speech warrior Elon Musk’s more unfettered version of Twitter could collide with new rules in Europe, where officials warn that the social media company will have to comply with some of the world’s toughest laws targetting toxic content.

    While the new digital rulebook means the European Union (EU) is likely to be a global leader in cracking down on Musk’s re-imagined platform, the 27-nation bloc will face its own challenges forcing Twitter and other online companies to comply. The law doesn’t fully take effect until 2024, and EU officials are scrambling to recruit enough workers to hold Big Tech to account.

    Known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), the EU’s sweeping set of rules aims to make platforms and search engines more accountable for illegal and harmful content including hate speech, scams and disinformation. They’ll kick in next summer for the biggest digital companies like Google, Facebook and TikTok and then expand to all online services the following year.

    Those standards are poised to run up against Musk’s whipsawing policies at Twitter: He abruptly axed a group of advisers this week who address problems like hate speech, child exploitation and self-harm, halved Twitter’s workforce and issued conflicting decisions about content moderation.

    “A lot can change in six months, but it sure seems like Twitter is lining up to be Europe’s first major test case when it comes to enforcing the DSA,” said John Albert of Berlin-based AlgorithmWatch, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.

    Musk has called for “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach”, saying he wants to downgrade negative and hateful posts. The billionaire Tesla CEO considers the bloc’s rules “a sensible approach to implement on a worldwide basis”, EU Digital Policy Chief Thierry Breton recounted after a video call with Musk this month.

    Other jurisdictions are far behind Europe. In the United States (US), Silicon Valley lobbyists have largely succeeded in keeping federal lawmakers at bay, and Congress has been politically divided on efforts to address competition, online privacy, disinformation and more.

    Twitter logo at its headquarter. PHOTO: AP

    Britain is working on its own Online Safety Bill, but it was recently watered down and not clear when it will be approved.

    Musk’s style of making ad hoc changes won’t fly under the new European rulebook, experts said.

    Twitter’s disastrous rollout of paid “verified” blue checks likely would have triggered an EU investigation and possibly big fines because such major design changes wouldn’t be allowed without a risk assessment, Albert said.

    The premium service was abandoned last month after a flood of imposter accounts spread disinformation. It relaunched this week.

    The abrupt disbanding of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council also would “raise some eyebrows in Brussels,” Albert said. Expert advisers aren’t required under the EU rules, but “good-faith voluntary efforts” show “European regulators that you care about transparency and are invested in trust and safety”, he said.

    Musk’s tinkering – including dropping enforcement of COVID-19 misinformation rules and granting amnesty to suspended accounts – has already alarmed European officials.

    Musk’s approach is “a big issue” that calls for “more regulation,” French President Emmanuel Macron told Good Morning America.

    In Europe, “you can demonstrate you can have free speech, you can write what you want.

    But there is responsibilities and limits”, he said. Macron, who met with Musk in the US this month, tweeted that “efforts have to be made by Twitter to comply with European regulations”.

    The bloc will require online companies to follow clear rules on dealing with illegal content and explain to users why the material was taken down or given a warning label.

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