EU says Twitter cuts must not undermine fight against hate speech

Staffing levels must be sufficient for platforms to 'respond effectively to the challenges of content moderation', spokesperson tells The National

There has been a rush of departures from Twitter since Elon Musk's takeover last month.  AFP
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The abrupt closure of Twitter’s Brussels office has raised concerns among European Union officials about its ability to moderate hate speech, a representative told The National.

“We believe that ensuring sufficient staff is necessary for a platform to respond effectively to the challenges of content moderation, which are particularly complex in the field of hate speech,” said Christian Wigand, EU Commission spokesman for justice, equality and rule of law .

“We expect platforms to ensure the appropriate resources to deliver on their commitments.”

Quoting sources with knowledge of staff departures at Twitter, The Financial Times on Thursday reported that Julia Mozer and Dario La Nasa, who were in charge of Twitter’s digital policy in Europe, left the company last week. It is not clear whether they were fired or resigned.

The commission will scrutinise the appropriateness of the expertise and resources allocated, as well as the way they organise their compliance function
Christian Wigand, EU Commission spokesman

On the same day, EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders visited Twitter’s offices in Dublin. He said in a tweet that “the recent layoffs @Twitter and today’s results of the Code of Conduct against #HateSpeech are a source of concern”.

Mr Reynders was referring to the EU’s latest assessment of social media monitoring of hate speech, which indicated that the response of companies like Twitter to hate speech notifications has decreased.

The report, published on Thursday, shows that Twitter’s removal rate for hate speech was 45.4 per cent compared with 49.8 per cent in 2021.

“This is a worrying trend,” Mr Wigand said.

Twitter officials in Dublin reaffirmed the company’s commitment to EU rules, according to the European Commission.

The EU’s new rules for online platforms, called the Digital Services Act, will apply from February 2024 and require companies such as Twitter to do more to police the internet for illegal content or risk fines as much as 6 per cent of their annual global turnover.

Mr Wigand stressed that “all companies who offer their services in the union will have to comply with the rules in the DSA”.

All medium-sized or larger online platforms and search engines will have to publish their user numbers by February 17 2023 for the EU Commission to assess whether they should be designated as a so-called very large online platform, meaning they reach at least 45 million people or 10 per cent of the population of the EU’s 27 countries.

Within four months of being designated, such entities - and Twitter is expected to be one of them - will have to comply with the new rules.

They will have additional responsibilities compared to smaller platforms including wide-ranging annual assessments of the risks for online harms on their services, such as the dissemination of disinformation.

Mr Wigand said that for those platforms, the risk management obligations also include a strong component of the appropriateness of the resources allocated to managing societal risks in the EU.

“Among other matters, the commission will scrutinise the appropriateness of the expertise and resources allocated, as well as the way they organise their compliance function,” he said.

Twitter has fired top executives and enforced steep job cuts with little warning since billionaire Elon Musk's tumultuous takeover of the company last month. About half of the 7,500 strong workforce has been laid off while more than 1,000 have resigned.

Updated: November 25, 2022, 5:40 PM