Twitter leaves EU disinformation code as Breton warns enforcement

29 May 2023

EU commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton. Image: Claudio Centonze

Internal markets chief Thierry Breton told Twitter ‘you can run but you can’t hide’ from impending legislation.

Elon Musk has pulled Twitter out of the EU code of practice against disinformation, Thierry Breton confirmed in a tweet on Friday (26 May).

However, the internal markets commissioner had a stark warning for the Twitter CEO. “But obligations remain. You can run but you can’t hide,” he wrote.

The EU executive noted that while the code of practice on discrimination is technically voluntary, fighting discrimination will be a legal obligation for major social media companies under the Digital Services Act expected to come into force on 25 August.

“Our teams will be ready for enforcement,” Breton added.

Published in June 2022, the code is part of the EU’s attempt to crack down on fake news content on the internet. It follows the lessons learnt during the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

It is backed up by the Digital Services Act, the landmark EU legislation that will force tech companies to take control of content moderation.

This means that Big Tech companies with large platforms that repeatedly break the code and do not carry out risk mitigation measures may be fined up to 6pc of their global turnover.

“This new anti-disinformation code comes at a time when Russia is weaponising disinformation as part of its military aggression against Ukraine, but also when we see attacks on democracy more broadly,” Commission VP for values and transparency Věra Jourová said last year.

“We now have very significant commitments to reduce the impact of disinformation online and much more robust tools to measure how these are implemented across the EU in all countries and in all its languages.”

At the time of its announcement, the voluntary rulebook had 34 signatories. This included Meta, Google, Twitter and TikTok, as well as smaller platforms, online ad companies, fact-checkers and organisations working to tackle fake news.

Twitter’s move to leave the code follows an EU ‘yellow card’ for its failure to meet the standards in disinformation reports submitted by other major platforms such as Google, Meta and TikTok.

The company apparently had “no information on commitments to empower the fact-checking community”.

“I am disappointed to see that Twitter report lags behind others and I expect a more serious commitment to their obligations stemming from the code,” Jourová said in February. “Russia is engaged also in a full-blown disinformation war and the platforms need to live up to their responsibilities.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic