Twitter’s Brussels office is reportedly the latest victim of Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, which comes at a time of accelerated EU regulatory scrutiny against the company and similar platforms.
Since becoming the company’s CEO in late October and completing a grueling journey to complete the platform’s $44 billion purchase, Musk has stripped down much of his internal staffing structure, first firing his top executives, then rolling out layoffs to many employees and disbanded the core teams.
The company’s AI ethics, human rights and accessibility teams have so far been singled out. Other departments such as communications, curation and public policy were also reportedly gouged.
A significant number of employees across the company have also opted to step down from their positions in response to the developments, including an email from Musk stating that employees would need to be “extremely persistent” for Twitter to thrive what requires an increase in performance is “working long hours at high intensity”.
According to the Financial Times, However, the last two remaining employees who work at Twitter’s Brussels headquarters have also left their positions after the other four members of the team left earlier, marking the full closure of the office.
While it is currently unclear whether this shutdown will be temporary or permanent, it comes at a crucial time for technology regulation in Europe. Very large online platforms like Twitter are currently figuring out how to comply with the Digital Service Act (DSA), the brand new EU rulebook on content moderation that went into effect last week.
Twitter’s EU application will give a first indication that the massive layoffs could trigger compliance problems for the platform in Europe Code of Practice on Disinformation, a voluntary toolset that essentially anticipates the DSA and of which Twitter is a leading signatory.
Ever since Musk took over the helm of the company, Brussels has been sending out vehement messages not to put its rules to the test.
In response to a celebratory “bird freed” tweet Musk wrote when the deal was finalized in October, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton replied: “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules.” Breton also pointed to a recording of a meeting with Musk in May, in which the billionaire said the DSA “aligns right with my mindset.”
A worrying sign in that direction could come from another soft law, the Code of Conduct to Combat Illegal Hate Speech Online, on which the commission published its seventh assessment on Thursday with exhausted results compared to last year.
The code was adopted in 2016 in agreement with many major platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft, and has since garnered other high-profile signers, including messaging service Viber and live-streaming platform Twitch.
Last year, 64.4% of online hate speech reports were verified by businesses within 24 hours of receipt, down from 81% in 2021 to 90.4% in 2020. Only one platform, TikTok, was able to match their individual Increase Performance.
While the overall removal rate remained about the same as last year, increasing from 62.5% in 2021 to 63.6% in 2022, only YouTube increased its rate at the individual level.
On average, 69.6% of content that incited murder or violence against specific groups was removed, with a 59.3% removal rate for content containing defamatory language or images about specific groups.
On the other hand, the situation has improved when it comes to giving feedback to users from companies, the number is above the values of the previous year.
IT companies and Trusted Flagger have also agreed on a new framework for action to strengthen their collaboration on content identification and removal, including through a consolidated dialogue, more frequent meetings and greater visibility of their work.
The Commission will now examine how the implementation of the code can support compliance with the DSA, which the EU executive says could lead to its revision in 2023.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Nathalie Weatherald]