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‘Bye, bye birdie’: EU bids farewell to Twitter as company pulls out of code to fight disinformation

Twitter has dropped out of a voluntary European Union agreement to combat online disinformation, a top EU official said Friday, May 26, 2023.
Twitter has dropped out of a voluntary European Union agreement to combat online disinformation, a top EU official said Friday, May 26, 2023. Copyright AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File
Copyright AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File
By Giulia CarbonaroSophia Khatsenkova
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Despite Twitter’s withdrawal, the EU’s anti-disinformation code remains “strong,” said Vera Jourova.

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Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, bashed Twitter’s latest decision to leave the EU’s anti-disinformation code as “irresponsible” at a time when Russia’s disinformation is extremely dangerous.

“Bye, bye birdie,” Jourova tweeted on Saturday. “Twitter has chosen a hard way to comply with our digital laws,” she added.

“Russia’s disinformation is dangerous and it is irresponsible to leave [the] EU's anti-disinformation Code”.

Dozens of tech firms have voluntarily signed up to the EU’s anti-disinformation code revamped last year, including Meta (with Instagram and Facebook), TikTok, Google, Microsoft and Twitch.

Despite the fact that Twitter’s withdrawal could appear to be a major setback in the fight against disinformation and fake news in the EU, Jourova said that “the Code remains strong, sets high standards and is at the heart of our efforts to address disinformation”.

The EU official added that she will meet with signatories of the code in June, “so we can step up our actions, especially ahead of the elections”.

Twitter’s decision to pull out of the EU’s voluntary code to fight the spread of disinformation and fake news in the bloc was announced by Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, on Twitter on Friday.

Twitter has not yet commented on the decision nor has it confirmed it.

Even without the anti-disinformation code, Breton said he will hold Twitter accountable to comply with the bloc’s content rules. “Obligations remain,” he said, specifying that the social media platform will still have to comply with EU laws. “You can run but you can’t hide”.

Fighting disinformation will become a legal obligation in the EU as of August 25, when platforms with more than 45 million monthly active users - including Twitter - will have to comply with the Digital Services Act, or DSA - a set of rules aimed to protect Europeans online.

The act will force big online platforms and search engines to be more diligent in their content moderation and cut down on disinformation.

For Twitter, this would mean allowing users to flag illegal content on the platform and act quickly to address the spread of disinformation.

France’s Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot even threatened to ban Twitter if the platform refuses to comply with these new rules. 

But for Eliska Pirkova, Europe Policy Analyst at the NGO Access Now, this could set a dangerous precedent when it comes to censorship. 

"Banning such a significant large online platform would be very worrisome, especially from the perspective of freedom of expression and access to information," she told Euronews.

"I really hope that there are other regulatory consequences that the Commission can still put in place before we will arrive at such an extreme solution as banning the operation of Twitter in the European Union."

Since Elon Musk took over the company last year, many have accused him of amplifying disinformation on the platform, especially as the billionaire’s promise to turn Twitter into a beacon of free speech was followed by the reinstatement of previously suspended or banned accounts, like those of Donald Trump and Andrew Tate.

Many of the accounts he restored had been suspended or banned for spreading misinformation, conspiracy theories, or hateful speech.

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In an interview with the BBC in April, Musk claimed that there’s now less misinformation on Twitter than when it took over the company in October, but many experts disagree.

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