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Elon Musk says he supports Twitter law that would take down legal but harmful content

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Elon Musk has said he agrees with a piece of European legislation that would levy huge fines on social media companies that do not adequately tackle misinformation, hate speech and other harmful content.

The Digital Services Act, which was proposed by the European Commission in December 2020, aims to hold tech companies such as Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), Google, and Twitter more responsible for flagging and removal of illegal content like hate speech or dodgy goods and services sold online like counterfeit sneakers or unsafe toys.

It will also police the spread of misinformation and demands that platforms be more transparent about how their algorithms work. Social media companies could be fined up to six per cent of their global revenue if they refuse to comply.

A video of Mr Musk, posted by Thierry Breton, the Commissioner for the Internal Market, showed the billionaire seemingly agreeing with the regulation.

“We’re in Austin together with Elon Musk”, Mr Breton said, “we discussed many issues and I was happy to explain to you the DSA, the new regulation in Europe, and now you understand very well, it fits pretty well with that you think we should do with the platform?”

Mr Musk replied: “Its exactly aligned with my thinking. It’s been a great discussion, and um, I really think, uh, I agree with everything you said, really. I think we’re very much of the same mind, and um, and uh, y’know, I think anything that, uh, my companies can do that would be beneficial to Europe, we want to do that, I just want to say”.

It is unclear exactly what was discussed between the two men; The Independent has reached out to the European Commission for more details.

Some of the tenets of the DSA do fit with suggestions Elon Musk has made about Twitter, whose proposal to buy the social media site was accepted on 25 April, such as the notion that Twitter should open-source its algorithm to “increase trust.”

But Twitter’s former head of engineering, Alex Roetter, has said that might not achieve its aims. “This one is a head-scratcher to me,” Mr Roetter told CNBC, because the algorithms in itself will not reveal much.

Twitter’s ranking algorithms look at billions of examples of content in an attempt to predict how users might react to other content. “It doesn’t say, if you are Republican, then you’re banned,” Mr Roetter said. “There’s just nothing like that.”

Moreover, other elements of the act may go against Mr Musk’s claimed position as a “free speech absolutist”. The DSA “would help to tackle harmful content (which might not be illegal) and the spread of disinformation”, according to the European Parliament, which may stand against how Mr Musk wants to moderate the platform.

“My preference is to hew close to the laws of countries in which Twitter operates. If the citizens want something banned, then pass a law to do so, otherwise it should be allowed”, Mr Musk has tweeted. It is unclear if Mr Musk means to adhere to the First Amendment, which permits speech that might be regulated in the UK and Europe, or whether Twitter will vary based on the geographical location it is used in.

If the latter, it could mean that repressive regimes such as Qatar, which issued a law that threatens to imprison “anyone who broadcasts, publishes, or republishes false or biased rumors, statements, or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state” in 2020. The country is also financially backing Mr Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. Mr Musk did not respond to requests for comment from The Independent.

Mr Musk has also repeatedly criticised government attempts to manage disinformation. The Department of Homeland Security recently set up a Disinformation Governance Board to counter misinformation, and Mr Musk said the new board was “messed up” in reply to a tweet that called it the ‘Ministry of Truth’ - reference to George Orwell’s 1984.

Other right-wing figures such as Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was permanently booted from Twitter at the beginning of 2022 for repeatedly spreading misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines, have expressed interest in meeting Mr Musk.

“I don’t know Mr Musk, but I do invite him to come talk with me in Washington, DC,” she said. “I’d be happy to put together a roundtable of all the most brilliant people who have been unjustly banned from Twitter and he can see for himself the urgent necessity of doing right by them.”

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