European politicians said they were concerned by Twitter’s suspension of American journalists from its platform, but the move shows the limits of its planned new rules for online content and online media freedom.
France’s digital affairs minister Jean-Noël Barrot said he was “appalled” by the direction Twitter was taking under Elon Musk after the platform. remote nine American journalists and other high-profile accounts in a seemingly arbitrary decision.
“Freedom of the press is the very foundation of democracy. To attack one is to attack the other”, Barrot tweeted.
The vice-president of the European Commission, Věra Jourová, described the “arbitrary” expulsion of journalists as worrying. French Industry Minister Roland Lescure Announced was temporarily leaving the platform in protest.
The Twitter ban for tech journalists from media organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN apparently came after they criticized the tech billionaire and self-proclaimed free speech advocate and wrote about the suspension of more than 20 accounts for sharing publicly available information about the location of Musk’s private jet.
“Talking a lot about #FreeSpeech, but stopping it as soon as you’re criticized yourself: that’s a weird understanding of #FreedomOfExpression.” said German Justice Minister Marc Buschmann.
The German Foreign Office’s own Twitter account said press freedom must not be “arbitrarily turned on and off”.
Twitter has been mired in controversy since it was acquired by Musk in October and laid off staff working on content moderation and policy issues. The platform is now fighting to stop misinformation, which could renege on commitments it made in June 2022. This week, the company dissolved its board of experts that advised the company on its content policy.
But restricting journalists’ access to a platform beloved by the press risks being a severe blow to press freedom and freedom of expression. None of the banned journalists received an explanation of the decision from the social media platform. It was unclear if and when they would be allowed back on the platform. There have been calls to join alternatives like Mastodon, but links to it have reportedly has been blocked on Twitter. The open source platform’s account was also blocked.
Fly according to EU rules?
In Brussels, politicians pointed to the European Union’s legislative arsenal as a powerful tool to curb the power of platforms, and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton insisted in October that Twitter’s bird logo “will follow our rules.” ” in the region.
Those laws or proposals are not yet ready for use and cannot yet counter Musk’s unilateral decisions for the platform he owns. The Commission is preparing to enforce the EU’s content law, the Digital Services Act (DSA), from summer 2023. The new Media Freedom Act is also being negotiated and may not become in law until at least the end of 2024.
The DSA, and its ability to impose hefty fines, would require lengthy investigations by a Commission team that is not yet fully established. The Freedom of the Media Act does not specifically address an issue such as “de-platforming” or the removal of a person from a social network such as Twitter.
The Commission’s Jourová warned Twitter about the possibility of future sanctions under the DSA: up to 6 percent of a company’s global revenue if they restrict EU-based users and content in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.
Twitter could also be penalized in the future if it doesn’t tell users why they’ve been penalized. Large online platforms with more than 45 million users in the EU will need to assess and limit potential damage to freedom of expression and information, as well as media freedom and pluralism.
“The EU Digital Services Law requires respect for press freedom and fundamental rights. This is reinforced under our #MediaFreedomAct,” she said. tweeted. “@elonmusk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon”.
Threats from politicians do not reassure media organizations and journalists.
“The European legal arsenal is not sufficient to oppose acts of arbitrary censorship,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, secretary general of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).
The draft Freedom of the Media Act goes a long way toward how Big Tech might treat news organizations. Very large online platforms would have to inform the media before removing their content. It also envisions conversations between media organizations and large social networks to discuss content moderation issues.
Wouter Gekiere of the European Broadcasting Union in Brussels echoed similar concerns, saying public media services could not see how the DSA could prevent the removal of journalists’ accounts.
“The European Law on Freedom of the Media would not do much more to protect online media,” he said. Journalists and editors must have the ability to report stories without fear of arbitrary platform controls.”
Laura Kayali and Mark Scott contributed to this reporting.