The European Union took the first formal steps against Elon Musk’s X over allegedly breaking rules on how it handled illegal content and disinformation, in the first such probe of a major online platform since the bloc’s Digital Services Act came into force this year.
Regulators opened formal infringement proceedings against X, two months after warning the company formerly known as Twitter over how it handled harmful content on its site, the European Commission said in a statement on Monday. Regulators will continue to gather evidence on violations and will be empowered to take enforcement steps, it said.
“X remains committed to complying with the Digital Services Act, and is cooperating with the regulatory process,” X spokesperson Joe Benarroch said by email. “It is important that this process remains free of political influence and follows the law.”
The case marks a major test of the bloc’s ability to enforce rules on US social media giants including X, Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc. as it seeks to rein in the power of Silicon Valley and establish Brussels as the world’s premier tech regulator. The DSA threatens hefty fines or even a ban from the EU for repeated violations.
X is being probed because it’s suspected of not following transparency obligations and having a user interface with a deceptive design, Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton posted on Monday.
“The time of big online platforms behaving like they are ‘too big to care’ has come to an end,” Breton said in a statement. “We now have clear rules, ex ante obligations, strong oversight, speedy enforcement, and deterrent sanctions and we will make full use of our toolbox to protect our citizens and democracies.”
The DSA gives regulators new powers to take action against major tech companies for how they handle content on their platforms. Companies that fail to comply could eventually face fines as high as 6% annual revenue.
The probe follows a formal request for comment in October over how the platform was handling content especially after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Meta and ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok were among the other companies questioned over how they dealt with the risk of illegal content.
X’s response, as well as the company’s transparency report and risk assessment, prompted concerns it may have breached the DSA. While X has changed policies after discussions with the commission, the investigation shows there is still more work to be done, according to a senior commission official.
The commission’s investigation will not focus on individual pieces of content, as it’s still up to individual EU countries to establish what is illegal. The probe will instead look at how X handles content, investigating whether the company follows its own terms and conditions, mechanisms for users to report illegal content and how quickly those issues are handled by the company, the senior official said at a briefing on Monday.
The commission is especially looking at the company’s blue check verification system, which used to indicate someone was a verified and trustworthy source. After Musk’s takeover of the site, the blue check shows the users that have paid for the platform’s premium service. Regulators will investigate if the blue checks are misleading and whether X boosts premium users’ posts in feeds.
The review will also review the effectiveness of Community Notes, X’s crowd-source fact-checking system, as well as its content moderation resources, the access it provides to academics and researchers, and the company’s database for advertisements.
The EU’s executive arm will now do an in-depth analysis — possibly including interviews and inspections — of the company’s resources and practices to decide whether the company has violated the DSA. The commission can also initiate more probes into issues at X.
There is no deadline for the investigation.