Europe warns Elon Musk about misinformation and violence on X related to Hamas-Israel conflict

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A European regulator has issued Elon Musk a stern warning about the spread of illegal content and disinformation on X, formerly known as Twitter, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. Failure to comply with the European regulations around illegal content could result in fines worth 6% of a company’s annual revenue.

Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, said in a letter addressed to Musk on Tuesday that his office has “indications” that groups are spreading misinformation and “violent and terrorist” content on X, and urged the billionaire to respond within a 24-hour period.

The letter comes after numerous researchers, news organizations and other groups have documented a rise of misleading, false and questionable content on X, creating confusion about the current conflict.

Breton shared his letter via an X post, tagging Musk’s handle and including a hashtag that refers to the Digital Services Act, the newly enacted legislation by the European Commission — the executive arm of the European Union — that requires platforms with more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU to monitor for and take down illegal content as well as detail their protocols for doing so.

He reminded Musk in the letter that the DSA “sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation,” and that X needs “to be very transparent and clear on what content is permitted under your terms and consistently and diligently enforce your own policies.”

EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan July 3, 2023.

Issei Kato | Reuters

The commissioner said that recent “changes in public interest policies” caused confusion in “many European users.” Breton seemed to be referring to a change that X made over the weekend to its public interest policy that influences whether the company decides to leave certain posts available for everyone to see despite the messages violating policy rules.  

“Public media and civil society organisations widely report instances of fake and manipulated images and facts circulating on your platform in the EU, such as repurposed old images of unrelated armed conflicts or military footage that actually originated from video games,” the letter said. “This appears to be manifestly false or misleading information.”

Breton said that he wants Musk to ensure that X’s “systems are effective” and “report on the crisis measures taken to my team.”

He added that he expects X “to be in contact with the relevant law enforcement authorities and Europol, and ensure that you respond promptly to their requests.”

“I remind you that following the opening of a potential investigation and a finding of non-compliance, penalties can be imposed,” Breton wrote.

X did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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