By Bill Echikson*
(EurActiv) — After Musk’s takeover of Twitter, European Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted an ominous warning: “It’s time to put some order in the digital ‘Wild West.’ A new sheriff is in town – and it goes by the name #DSA.”
But the self-proclaimed digital sheriff Breton failed to mention that the DSA – the Digital Services Act – only goes into effect in September 2023, and its consequences remain uncertain. For now, Breton’s DSA gun, while potentially lethal, lacks ammunition.
The Twitter tussle demonstrates how regulators are struggling to come to terms with online hate speech. What’s illegal in one country is legal in another. Past attempts to control speech in democracies have flopped. New laws remain to be implemented and enforced.
To be sure, Musk’s erratic content shifts have unnerved policymakers. Twitter’s new owner has fired the company’s online safety leaders, restored former President Donald Trump’s account, banned and then restored certain journalists to the platform, and attempted to block tweets directed to other social media sites. Hate speech on Twitter is soaring.
This week, Musk conducted an online poll about whether he should continue as CEO of Twitter. More than 17 million users voted. Musk lost by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin. Musk now says he will step down once a new CEO is hired.
On both sides of the Atlantic, politicians are dismayed. In the US, Congressional Democrats have posed tough questions about data and privacy on the platform. But Republicans, long frustrated by what they see as Twitter’s left-leaning moderation policies, have demonstrated little appetite.
Two cases going before the US Supreme Court could end up being decisive, either limiting platforms’ abilities to moderate content or increasing their liability and forcing them to limit free speech.
In contrast, Europe has approved and is preparing to implement the landmark DSA. Sheriff Breton has ordered “Commission teams to enforce DSA no later than 1 September 2023” and strongly encouraged “platforms to fully comply even sooner”.
The DSA requires speech platforms and search engines “to undertake a comprehensive assessment of risks to fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression, the protection of personal data, and freedom and pluralism of the media online as well as the rights of the child”.
Platforms that break the law face fines of up to 6% of their revenue.
Bill Echikson is the Acting Director of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA)’s Digital Innovation Initiative. Opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.