X to be investigated for allegedly breaking EU laws on hate speech and fake news

<span>Photograph: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

The social media platform X, formerly Twitter, is being investigated for allegedly breaking EU law on disinformation, illegal content and transparency, the European Commission has announced.

The decision to launch formal infringement proceedings against the company, owned by the US billionaire Elon Musk, comes weeks after X was asked to provide evidence of compliance with new laws designed to eliminate hate speech, racism and fake news from platforms in the EU.

Under the Digital Services Act, which came into force in August, a company can be fined 6% of its global income or be banned from operating across the EU if it is found to have breached the law.

Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner in charge of enforcing the DSA, confirmed the investigation in a post on Musk’s platform.

Related: Digital Services Act: inside the EU’s ambitious bid to clean up social media

“Today we open formal infringement proceedings against @X,” he wrote, saying the move was on the grounds of “suspected breach of obligations to counter illegal content and disinformation; suspected breach of transparency obligations and suspected deceptive design of user interface”.

The investigation into “deceptive design” concerns the use of “blue check” marks, which are now only available to those who pay. Before Musk blue ticks were given by Twitter to verified users in the public eye, including ministers and celebrities.

In June, following a meeting with Breton in California, Musk insisted he would comply with the law.

But critics of Musk’s platform have condemned the alleged presence of fake news and hate speech on X, particularly since Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza.

On 10 October, the EU sent a formal letter to X over “indications” that the platform was “being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU” in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel.

In response, Linda Yaccarino, the chief executive of X, wrote to Breton, saying the company was “actively working to address the operational needs of this fast-moving and evolving conflict”.

“X is committed to serving the public conversation, especially in critical moments like this, and understands the importance of addressing any illegal content that may be disseminated through the platform. There is no place on X for terrorist organisations or violent extremist groups and we continue to remove such accounts in real time, including proactive efforts,” she said.

In a statement the European Commission said it had taken the decision to launch proceedings against X on the basis of its “preliminary investigation”, which allegedly concerned the “dissemination of illegal content in the context of Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel”.

It said proceedings would focus on the functioning of the notice and action mechanism for illegal content, which involves legal orders from police or other authorities in the EU to take down content within one hour.

It will also look at the effectiveness of X’s “community notes”, which allow the public to comment on the veracity or legality of posts.

Earlier this year Facebook, TikTok and tech giants Google and Microsoft signed up to a code of conduct laid out by the EU to prepare for the new laws in the DSA.

However, in May Twitter quit the code of conduct, prompting a warning by Breton that “you can run but you can’t hide”.

“Beyond voluntary commitments, fighting disinformation will be legal obligation under DSA as of August 25. Our teams will be ready for enforcement,” he said.