The European Union's digital enforcer has sent an urgent letter to Elon Musk about the proliferation of misinformation on X regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict, "reminding" Musk of the company's obligations under the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA), and CEO Linda Yaccarino has replied.
The platform formerly known as Twitter has, as in earlier global conflicts, seen an uptick in usage since the outbreak of violence on Saturday, and a rash of reactions and sharing of photos and videos connected to the Israel-Hamas war. Since Musk's takeover of the company, X/Twitter has been employing "Community Notes" to give context to photos and postings, using crowdsourcing to call out misinformation — though the company is not actively removing posts spreading falsehoods and expects users to parse these for themselves.
Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market of the EU who acts as the EU's chief digital-business cop, penned a letter Tuesday to Musk — and rather than get caught up using "X" to refer to the company, Breton simply calls it "your platform."
"Following the terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel, we have indications that your platform is being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU," Breton writes. "Let me remind you that the Digital Services Act sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation."
Following the terrorist attacks by Hamas against 🇮🇱, we have indications of X/Twitter being used to disseminate illegal content & disinformation in the EU.— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) October 10, 2023
Urgent letter to @elonmusk on #DSA obligations ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/avMm1LHq54
Breton goes on to instruct Musk to respond quickly to all notices of illegal content in the EU, and to "have in place proportionate and effective mitigation measures to tackle the risks to public security and civic discourse stemming from misinformation." Breton further says that X must respond within 24 hours to the letter and its demands, or else face possible penalties.
On Sunday evening, X's Safety team posted a tweet saying that it had "taken action under our Violent and Hateful Entities Policy to remove newly created Hamas-affiliated accounts and we’re currently coordinating with industry peers... to try and prevent terrorist content from being distributed online."
Vaguely, they also say, "Our escalation teams have actioned tens of thousands of posts for sharing graphic media, violent speech, and hateful conduct," and Community Notes are "a critical tool for helping to combat potential misinformation."
After the EU commission's letter was sent, Musk responded with a tweet saying, "Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports. Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them."
He also said in another tweet-reply to Breton's letter, "I still don’t know what they’re talking about! Maybe it’s in the mail or something."
As the Associated Press reports, liberal advocacy group Media Matters cites "at least six misleading videos about the war" that were being shown to subscribers on X since Saturday. "This included out-of-context videos and old ones purporting to be recent that earned millions of views."
Investigative collective Bellingcat tells the AP that the misinformation and misleading video-sharing was "almost as bad" on TikTok. And both YouTube and Facebook are reportedly playing "whack-a-mole" in dealing with unsubstantiated rumor and other misinformation about the conflict.
"In the fog of war, you can always expect disinformation from all sides," says political scientist Ian Bremmer. "But there’s so much algorithmically boosted hate speech spreading on social media right now making it harder to get information that isn’t polarizing." Bremmer also said the amount of amplified misinformation about the conflict was "unlike anything I've ever been exposed to in my career as a political scientist."
On Wednesday night, X CEO Linda Yaccarino formally responded to the EU's letter, saying that X had "taken action to remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content."
Yaccarino's letter concludes by saying that her response "is based on the understanding that your letter constitutes an expression of concern — which we take very seriously — but does not constitute a formal notification or request under the DSA or any other legal provision."