Elon Musk’s Company Under Investigation by EU for Illegal Content, Moderation, Transparency, and UX Deception

Elon Musk’s X marks the spot of the first confirmed investigation opened by the European Union under its rebooted digital rulebook, the Digital Services Act (DSA). Its earlier actions were focused on concerns about the spread of illegal content and disinformation related to the Israel-Hamas war. So the Commission’s official scrutiny of X could have real world implications for how the platform operates sooner rather than later. However the Commission obviously has doubts X has gone far enough on the transparency front to meet the DSA’s bar. The investigation may also test Musk’s mettle for what could be an expensive head-on clash with EU regulators.

Exciting news has arrived as the European Union has officially launched an investigation into Elon Musk’s company, X, under the recently revived Digital Services Act (DSA).

The European Commission declared the initiation of a “formal proceeding” today, stating that the probe will scrutinize potential breaches of regulations related to risk management, content moderation, dark patterns, advertising transparency, and data access for researchers on the social networking platform.

This formal DSA investigation on X occurred soon after privacy rights organization, noyb, filed a complaint against X for its adtech practices. However, the Commission has already been examining the platform for several months with multiple requests for information.

In October, the Commission raised concerns over X’s handling of illegal content and disinformation during the Israel-Hamas war. They sent an “urgent” inquiry to Musk’s company, requesting information on their response to information risks stemming from the conflict. The EU also announced that they were examining X’s compliance in various aspects, including policies on illegal content, complaint handling, risk assessment, and risk mitigation measures. X was given until the end of October to provide their response.

“Based on the preliminary investigation conducted so far, including an analysis of the risk assessment report provided by X in September, the Transparency report published by X on November 3, and their replies to the formal request for information, the Commission has decided to initiate formal infringement proceedings against X under the Digital Services Act,” the EU stated today.

According to the Commission, the areas and issues they will be focusing on during the investigation include:

  • Compliance with DSA obligations for countering the spread of illegal content in the EU
  • The effectiveness of X’s measures to combat information manipulation
  • Transparency requirements, specifically X’s access to data for researchers and ads transparency
  • Suspected deceptive elements in X’s user interface, specifically the “Blue checks” linked to certain subscription products

“If proven, these failures would violate Articles 34(1), 34(2) and 35(1), 16(5) and 16(6), 25(1), 39 and 40(12) of the DSA,” the EU added, stating that they will be conducting an in-depth investigation as a priority.

The Commission is responsible for enforcing the DSA on larger platforms like X, which was designated a very large online platform (VLOP) in April. Violators of the online governance regulations can face significant sanctions, including fines up to 6% of their global annual revenue. The EU can also implement interim measures if they believe there is a risk of serious harm to users, including temporarily blocking access to infringing services. While the investigation is still ongoing and no conclusions have been reached, other options are available for regulators, such as interim measures.

When asked about the EU’s probe, X’s Joe Benarroch, who was brought on by CEO Linda Yaccarino to handle business operations, responded:

“X is committed to complying with the Digital Services Act and cooperating with the regulatory process. It is essential for this process to remain free from political influence and adhere to the law. X’s focus is on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all users on our platform while preserving freedom of expression. We will continue to work tirelessly towards this goal.”

While under Musk, X has shown blatant disregard for responsible governance, contrary to the intentions of the DSA. This has resulted in numerous warnings from EU lawmakers, even before the formal probe launched today. However, X has recently implemented a research program to address systemic risks in the EU. Nevertheless, the Commission still holds doubts about X’s transparency practices in line with the DSA’s standards.

EU regulators will also be examining Musk’s claims that replacing traditional content moderation with a crowdsourcing approach is a sufficient way to handle diverse information risks. This will delve into the potential impact of downsizing X’s content moderation teams, prompting users to question how much harm they have potentially been exposed to.

This investigation is both stimulating and timely, with the EU being prepared for the possibility of an erratic billionaire wreaking havoc on a major social platform. However, they must follow through, and the real work is just beginning. This probe is a test of the EU’s commitment to enforce the rules they have laid out on paper.

The investigation may also put Musk’s determination to the test, as he may find himself in a costly battle with EU regulators. Only time will tell the outcome of this situation, but he may soon realize that the dead blue bird he chose to embrace, with its purposeful abandonment of traditional content moderation techniques in favor of online chaos, may start weighing him down.

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Kira Kim

Kira Kim is a science journalist with a background in biology and a passion for environmental issues. She is known for her clear and concise writing, as well as her ability to bring complex scientific concepts to life for a general audience.

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