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EU urges tech giants to combat disinformation amidst rising online falsehoods

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The European Union’s “digital enforcer,” Thierry Breton, has sounded the alarm over the proliferation of fake and misleading online content in the wake of the deadly Hamas assault in Israel. He is demanding that X (formerly known as Twitter) and Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) take action against disinformation.

Breton, the EU commissioner, has sent letters to Elon Musk, the owner of X, and Mark Zuckerberg, head of the Meta group, requesting details within 24 hours on how they are removing “illegal content and disinformation” in accordance with the EU’s new Digital Service Act (DSA). The DSA, effective for large platforms since August, imposes fines as high as six percent of a company’s global turnover for hosting illegal online content.

This warning has triggered an online exchange between Breton and Musk. Musk, in response, asked for a list of violations on X, emphasizing his platform’s transparency. Breton challenged Musk to demonstrate compliance with DSA and threatened rigorous enforcement.

Musk shot back, insisting on transparency and urging Breton to post his concerns on X. Meanwhile, Breton promoted Bluesky, a rival to X, which has Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey on its board.

X has come under scrutiny due to Musk’s cost-cutting measures, including reducing content moderation teams, leading to its poor performance in an EU analysis of illegal online content.

Breton’s letter to Musk highlighted concerns about violent and terrorist content circulating on X following the Hamas operation in Israel. His letter to Zuckerberg urged Meta to ensure effective moderation systems and DSA compliance.

Meta responded by establishing a special operations center after the Hamas attack, staffed with experts monitoring and responding to the evolving situation, while coordinating with fact-checkers to combat disinformation.

Breton also emphasized the importance of tackling disinformation during EU elections. The EU considers the risk of fake and manipulated content influencing elections a serious concern.

Breton does not determine what constitutes illegal online content; it is defined by EU laws or member countries’ legislation. However, he plays an active role in drawing attention to platforms’ responsibilities.

This development comes as advertisers pull back from X, causing a drop in revenue, and notable figures abandon the platform. Since the recent events in Israel, social media platforms have been inundated with videos of violence and conflict.

X has faced criticism for changes in its verification system and the presentation of unrelated images as part of the ongoing conflict. In addition, it no longer provides links to news articles, instead showing only images without context.

The international news agency AFP is taking legal action against X in France to enforce EU laws related to payments for online content usage. Breton and the EU aim to regulate and combat disinformation, bringing order to what he previously referred to as the “Wild West” of the internet.

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