If Brussels’ tech disinfo code is voluntary, then why did officials freak out when Musk yanked Twitter from it? Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist, and host of independently produced talk-shows in French and English.Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist, and host of independently produced talk-shows in French and English.rachelmarsden.comElon Musk. © Ludovic Marin/ Pool Photo via AP
European Union officials are having a meltdown, all because Twitter CEO Elon Musk has withdrawn the platform from a “voluntary” EU code of conduct for tech firms to combat so-called “disinformation.” And they have yet to cite a single actual example of it.
EU Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted, “You can run, but you can’t hide,” citing a legal obligation to prevent disinformation from August. He’s basically treating Musk, a guy who builds rockets and cars in America, like an unruly schoolchild, with Brussels in the role of the principal. French Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot even threatened to ban Twitter from the EU in a recent interview, citing the “grave” threat of disinformation.
They’re basically accusing Musk of pre-crime, like in the movie ‘Minority Report’ where Tom Cruise’s character is chased down by the state before having committed an offense. The EU is seeking to bring the very long arm of its authoritarianism down on Musk and other private tech players – however far outside the EU they might actually be – who refuse to abide by Brussels’ “Code of Practice on Disinformation,” concocted in 2018 and revised last year.
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Breton is even heading to Silicon Valley to check in on them. “I am the enforcer. I represent the law, which is the will of the state and the people,” he said about his trip.
Sounds like Mr. Enforcer could use a good humbling from the people he purports to represent, and what better way for it to be delivered than through Musk, who envisions Twitter as the voice of the people and a platform for truly free expression.
By withdrawing from the code, Musk is just the latest example of what seems to be a trend. Facebook’s parent company Meta has already laid off moderators. Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet, and others have also cut into their watchdog departments, citing cost-cutting measures. Perhaps policing narratives is bad for business.
You have to wonder, though – if joining this EU pact is optional, then what exactly is the big deal? It’s not like there’s any guarantee that any of the signatories are actually reducing what the EU considers as disinformation. In fact, the whole concept of top-down policing of information flow raises suspicion about the potential marginalization of views and debates that oppose the establishment narrative. According to this EU code, tech platforms like Twitter are connected with “fact-checkers, civil society, and third-party organizations with specific expertise on disinformation.” The policy document adds that platforms also must report to an EU “Code Taskforce,” monitoring their efforts. Given that any such actors would implicitly have the EU’s stamp of approval, it’s not a stretch to imagine that they could effectively end up acting as enforcers or gatekeepers of the establishment narrative.
Musk himself is no stranger to this kind of systemic collusion between state actors and platforms to the detriment of contradictory debate and free information flow. It was his own release of the Twitter Files in the wake of his acquisition of the platform that brought to light the collusion between Twitter and Western government authorities to manipulate and censor public debate over Covid-19, for example, or to coordinate on certain narratives about geopolitical competitors (like Russia) – all under the guise of fighting “disinformation.”
Speaking of which, it didn’t take long after Musk’s withdrawal from the disinfo code for the EU’s vice president for values and transparency – an Orwellian title, if there ever was one – to suggest that the ultimate beneficiary of Musk’s actions in withdrawing from the code wasn’t free speech and debate, but rather Russia.
“Bye, bye birdie,” Vera Jourova said. “Twitter has chosen a hard way to comply with our digital laws. Russia’s disinformation is dangerous and it is irresponsible to leave EU’s anti-disinformation code.” Right, because all facts and analysis that don’t align with the Western agenda has to be Russian, as these folks see it. The reasoning is just a step away from proclaiming Musk to be some kind of useful idiot for Russia, despite him also being a major Pentagon contractor.
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It seems that Musk has just decided that the EU’s provisions aren’t aligned with the free-speech mandate that he has for the company, which he personally owns and for which he forked over $44 billion. And the EU apparently can’t bring itself to respect the definition of private ownership. If they wanted to make and treat online platforms like a public good or service, then they should just outright spend the cash to do that themselves so they can turn them into firehoses for their own propaganda – and then watch everyone flee.
It’s not like Musk is just letting fake news proliferate, despite the EU pearl-clutchers suggesting otherwise. It looks like he’s just found a different way to address fact checking. How arrogant do you have to be to figure that a guy who builds rockets and revolutionized the car industry couldn’t possibly come up with a better fact-checking system than a bunch of garden-variety bureaucrats?
When Musk took over the platform, he ditched some Twitter moderators and replaced them with a feature called “Community Notes,” whereby users who spot something that’s factually incorrect or misleading can contribute in real time to a correction or clarification that’s visible right under the tweet in question.
It turns out that this row between Twitter and the EU has become quite the topic on the platform itself. It’s also generating a lot of comments that Western officials would rather the average person did not see. And with Musk in charge, there’s not much they can do about it beyond threats and name calling. At least not without looking like the budding authoritarians they are.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.