Twitter Threatened With EU Sanctions Following Elon Musk’s Journalist Purge

New laws in Europe requiring “media freedom” could result in crackdown

Twitter logo
Twitter (Credit: Getty Images)

The European Union is threatening to sanction Twitter and owner Elon Musk after he abruptly suspended the accounts of multiple journalists on Thursday.

Reporters for The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Mashable, along with former MSNBC and ESPN host Keith Olbermann, were among those whose accounts were shut down without explanation.

The shutdowns came after Twitter banned an account that tracked the flights of Musk’s private jets using public information, which Musk said put his and his family’s safety at risk.

While the self-proclaimed free speech champion previously said he would leave the @ElonJet account alone, Musk changed course after a supposed run-in with an alleged stalker who he said jumped on a car his 2-year-old young son was riding in Wednesday, supposedly thinking Musk was in the vehicle. Musk threatened legal action against the 20-year-old college student, Jack Sweeney, who ran the account.

Musk said the suspended profiles were of people who had posted his real-time location, describing the information as “basically assassination coordinates.“

“Criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not,” Musk tweeted late Thursday.

But at least one of the reporters suspended, Mashable’s Matt Binder, said his account was shut down after he tweeted a screenshot of a post by CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, who was also banned, that simply showed a report from the Los Angeles Police Department that no crime report had been filed in connection with the incident.

In response to the suspensions, EU commissioner Vera Jourova warned that the bloc’s Digital Services Act requires the “respect of media freedom.”

“News about arbitrary suspension of journalists on Twitter is worrying,” Jourova said in a tweet. “EU’s Digital Services Act requires respect of media freedom and fundamental rights.

“This is reinforced under our #MediaFreedomAct,” she continued. “@elonmusk should be aware of that. There are red lines. And sanctions, soon.”

Jourova is one of the EU’s most senior officials. The two laws she cited are major pillars of European tech regulation, the BBC reported. The DSA, which was made law in the fall, is the EU’s content moderation rulebook, and bans arbitrary suspensions of accounts, but companies won’t start the compliance process until the summer.

Companies like Twitter first have to report the number of users they have in the EU in February, the BBC said. It is expected to apply to social media companies with more than 45 million users by the summer, and will require the platforms to maintain systems that can remove content that European national governments deem to be illegal, but also provide a process to appeal removals.

The European Commission proposed the Media Freedom Act in September to establish new safeguards for media. The details are still being negotiated.

It’s not the first time the EU has warned Musk about how he’s running Twitter. Last month,  Thierry Breton, the EU’s commissioner for the internal market, held a video call with the embattled CEO to discuss the Digital Services Act.

“There is still huge work ahead, as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising,” Breton said, according to a summary of the call provided to The Wall Street Journal.

If a company is found to not comply with the new law, it can face fines of up to 6% of its annual revenue and potential blocking of services.

It would not be the first effort at policing social media in Europe. Facebook parent Meta Platforms was fined $275 million in November for breaking the EU data privacy law, The Associated Press reported, and faces new regulations related to running advertising based on personal data.