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A hot potato: As Elon Musk reduces Twitter's content moderation to make the platform a bastion of free speech while also cutting its workforce, one of the European Union's top officials has warned the billionaire could be inadvertently helping Vladimir Putin by not removing Russian propaganda relating to the war in Ukraine.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova told Bloomberg that failing to tackle online disinformation could "lead to the very quick abuse" of Twitter.
"By not acting actively against the propaganda, which means to remove the pieces of propaganda, the disinformation, then you are actively supporting the war," she said. "This would be a very tricky and maybe dangerous endeavor or adventure for Mr. Musk," who "wants to be seen as somebody who is helping Ukraine."
Musk's SpaceX company has supplied Ukraine with over 25,000 Starlink ground terminals since the war began in Ukraine, helping keep its citizens and military online. He noted that creating, launching, maintaining, and replenishing satellites and ground stations, as well as paying telcos for access to the internet via gateways, costs SpaceX close to $20 million per month. Musk had warned that the ongoing costs could see this generosity end, but he backtracked and said SpaceX would fund Starlink in Ukraine "indefinitely."
Twitter has already been criticized for failing to stop the circulation of an antisemitic cartoon posted by Russian diplomats on the official account of the Russian Embassy in London.
Russian Embassy trying to win the meme war with open antisemitism. pic.twitter.com/vc9V7xrEdP— Joan Donovan BOOK: Meme Wars (@BostonJoan) November 22, 2022
Musk has long promised to reduce moderation on Twitter and has been reinstating previously banned accounts. He's also slashed the company's headcount by more than half, impacting its ability to identify and remove harmful content. The situation is worrying advertisers, including Apple, whom Musk says has threatened to drop the app from its store—the world's richest man said he would build his own phone if this happens.
Musk lost much of the goodwill he earned from the people of Ukraine after he tweeted a peace plan poll that brought angry reactions, including one from the country's president. He also had to deny reports that he recently spoke to Vladimir Putin about the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Bloomberg notes that failure to comply with current and upcoming EU laws related to harmful online content could see Twitter hit with fines equivalent to a percentage of the company's global sales, which would be the last thing the company needs after Musk warned that bankruptcy isn't an impossibility.