The European Union announced today it is opening an investigation into X for allegedly spreading illegal content and disinformation, including terrorist and violent content and hate speech. This comes a few days after the EU warned X for failing to take action on illegal content on its platform after Saturday’s deadly attacks on Israel by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
This is the first investigation opened under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA). Per the DSA, X is obligated, as as “very large online platform” to reduce risks caused by disinformation and act on reports of illegal content. Since the attacks, posts identified as false by by fact-checkers have circulated on X, purporting to show footage from the attacks inside Israel and Israel’s retaliation on targets in the Gaza Strip. These include footage filmed last month in Egypt and a clip that claims to show Hamas missile attacks on Israel but is actually from a video game.
Many employees overseeing content moderation at X, including its human rights team, were eliminated during X’s mass layoffs last year, as part of Elon Musk’s bid to improve the platform’s profitability.
In his warning to Musk on Tuesday, EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton wrote that the EU has “indications” that X is being used to spread illegal content and disinformation in the EU and reminded X of its need to moderate content. He added that when the company get notices of illegal content in the EU, it has be to “timely, diligent and objective” in removing the content and that the EU had “from qualified sources, reports about potentially illegal content circulating on your service despite flags from relevant authorities.”
The EU asked Musk to contact relevant law enforcement authorities and Europol, giving him a deadline of 24 hours to respond to requests, including one about DSA compliance. Breton warned that an investigation may be opened and penalties imposed.
In response to the warning, X CEO Linda Yaccarino released a letter saying that a leadership group had been convened to consider X’s response and “tens of thousands” of pieces of content had been removed, along with “thousands” of posts and “hundreds” of accounts linked to terrorist groups, violence or extremism. She also said that the company formerly known as Twitter is responding to law enforcement requests, but that it had not received any requests from Interpol at the time.
X said on its safety account that there had been more than 50 million posts globally over the past two days that referenced the weekend’s terrorist attack, underlining the scope of content generated. By Thursday afternoon, Hamas’ attack had killed more than 1,200 people, said the Israeli Military, and at least 1,537 people had been killed in Gaza by Israel’s retaliatory strikes, said the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Now that an investigation has been opened, X has until October 18 to provide information about “the activation and functioning of X’s crisis response protocol” to the EU, and until October 31 to respond to its other requests. The EU can impose finds for disinformation and impose period penalties for failures to respond by its deadlines. The EU is investigating X’s compliance with the DSA, including its policies on notices about illegal content, complaint handling, risk assessment and what measures it is taking to mitigate risks identified.
Earlier this year, Musk pulled out of the EU’s Code of Practice on online disinformation. In a response, Breton said “Twitter leaves EU voluntary Code of Practice against disinformation. But obligations remain. You can run but you can’t hide.”
TikTok and Meta have also been warned by the EU over disinformation, but in September, the EU said X is the worst for spreading disinformation.