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Online Safety: EU asks Musk’s X for information on hate speech, ‘illegal content’ regarding Israel-Hamas crisis

Elon Musk, CEO of X Corporation

*The European Commission’s ‘formal, legally binding request’ for information from X (formerly Twitter) is reportedly the Commission’s inaugural investigation under the Digital Services Act, to determine if the social media platform complies with new stringent rules to keep consumers safe online, and stop spread of harmful content in cyberspace

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

In a decisive move to keep consumers safe online and stop the spread of harmful content in cyberspace, the European Commission (EU) Thursday, October 12, 2023, made a formal, legally binding request for information from American multibillionaire businessman Elon Musk’s social media platform X (formerly Twitter) over its handling of hate speech, misinformation and violent terrorist content related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

It was learnt the move is the first step in what could become the EU’s inaugural investigation under the Digital Services Act, in this case to determine if the site formerly known as Twitter is in compliance with the tough new rules meant to keep users safe online and stop the spread of harmful content.

San Francisco-based X corporation in the United States (US) has until next Wednesday to respond to questions related to how its crisis response protocol is functioning, agency report said.

Responses to other questions must be received by the end of this month.

The Commission said its next steps, which could include the opening of formal proceedings and penalties, would be determined by X’s replies.

Representatives for X did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the development, AP report said.

It is equally noted as smoke and fire rise, following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Saturday, October 14, the country has been striking targets throughout Gaza since a bloody, cross-border attack by Hamas militants killed over 1,300 Israelis October 7 this year.

Israel’s retaliation has escalated after Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers launched an unprecedented attack on Israel at the weekend.

X removes hundreds of Hamas-linked accounts, says CEO

However, Linda Yaccarino, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of X, Thursday said that the site had removed hundreds of Hamas-linked accounts and took down or labelled tens of thousands of pieces of content since the militant group’s attack on Israel.

A social media expert called the actions “a drop in the bucket,” according to report.

Yaccarino also outlined steps taken by X to combat illegal content flourishing on the platform.

The CEO of the leading social media platform was responding to an earlier letter from a top European Union official for information on how X is complying with the EU’s new digital rules during the Israel-Hamas war. That letter, which essentially served as a warning, was not legally binding — the latest one, however, is, report noted.

In a letter to European Commissioner Thierry Breton, the 27-nation bloc’s digital enforcer, Yaccarino said: “X is proportionately and effectively assessing and addressing identified fake and manipulated content during this constantly evolving and shifting crisis.”

Nonetheless, some say the efforts are not nearly enough to tackle the problem.

Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the investigative collective Bellingcat, who previously worked at Twitter on Community Notes, stated: “While these actions are better than nothing, it is not enough to curtail the misinformation problem on X.

“There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation on the platform.

“From what we have seen, the moderation efforts from X are only addressing a drop in the bucket.”

Photos, videos of carnage flood social media platforms -Report

Since the Israeli-Hamas  war erupted earlier this month, reports indicate  that photos and videos have flooded social media of the carnage, including haunting footage of Hamas fighters taking terrified Israelis hostage, alongside posts from users pushing false claims and misrepresenting videos from other events.

The conflict is one of the first major tests for the EU’s groundbreaking digital rules, which took effect August 2023. Breton fired off a similar letter Thursday to TikTok, telling CEO Shou Zi Chew that he has a “particular obligation” to protect child and teen users from “violent content depicting hostage taking and other graphic videos” reportedly making the rounds on the video sharing app.

For X, changes that Musk has made to the platform since he bought it last year mean accounts that subscribe to X’s blue-check service can get paid if their posts go viral, creating a financial incentive to post whatever gets the most reaction. Plus, X’s workforce — including its content moderation team — has been gutted.

Those changes, report said, are running up against the EU’s Digital Services Act, which forces social media companies to step up policing of their platforms for illegal content, such as terrorist material or illegal hate speech, under threat of hefty fines.

“There is no place on X for terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups and we continue to remove such accounts in real time, including proactive efforts,” Yaccarino wrote in the letter posted to X.

She further disclosed that X had taken action to “remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content.”

Yaccarino as well pointed out there are 700 unique Community Notes — a feature that allows users to add their own fact-checks to posts — “related to the attacks and unfolding events.”

The platform has been “responding promptly” and in a “diligent and objective manner” to takedown requests from law enforcement agencies from around the world, including more than 80 from EU member states, Yaccarino said.

Koltai, the researcher and former Twitter employee, said Community Notes are not an “end-all solution to curtailing misinfo” and that there are gaps that the feature just can’t fill yet.

“There are still many videos and photos on X that don’t have notes that are unmoderated, and continue to spread misleading claims,” she said.

Since Musk acquired Twitter and renamed it, social-media watchers say the platform has become not just unreliable but actively promotes falsehoods, while a study commissioned by the EU found that it’s the worst-performing platform for online disinformation, according to report.

TikTok, YouTube, Facebook also battle rumours and falsehoods about crisis

X is not alone on this as rivals, such as TikTok, YouTube and Facebook also are coping with a flood of unsubstantiated rumours and falsehoods about the Middle Eastern conflict, playing the typical whack-a-mole that erupts each time a news event captures world attention, report stated.

Breton, the EU official, urged TikTok’s leader to step up its efforts at tackling disinformation and illegal content and respond within 24 hours. The company did not reply immediately to an email seeking comment.

Breton’s warning letters have also gone to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and Instagram parent Meta, report said.

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