Europe Warns Twitter's Elon Musk: The Bird Flies by Our Rules

Musk: the bird is freed. Europe: not so fast.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
Elon Musk and the Twitter bird logo

Musk might own Twitter, but he'll still have to play by the rules.

Muhammed Selim Korkutata / Anadolu Agency / Getty

Elon Musk, new owner of Twitter, has big plans for the future of the social media company, but regulators are already warning him not to get ahead of himself.

After apparently closing the $44 billion sale of Twitter on Thursday, Musk tweeted: "the bird is freed." But within hours, European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton retweeted Musk with a reminder: "In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules." Breton added the hashtag #DSA, referencing the incoming Digital Services Act, which lays out the rules for social media companies operating in Europe.

Breton's warning is a timely reminder that even though Musk has ideas in his head about how he wants to run Twitter, he'll still need to comply with regulation in different territories around the world. With speculation rife about what his leadership of the company will mean for the platform, it may serve as a comfort or an annoyance, depending on your perspective, that there are guardrails in place. 

Europe has long been a leader in establishing regulation that brings US tech giants to heel. Only this month, Apple said it will be forced to make an iPhone with a USB-C port after the EU passed new rules on universal phone chargers. The DSA, which was passed by the European Parliament in July, will demand accountability and transparency from Twitter about decisions the company takes and paves the way for Europe to issue fines of billion of dollars if the company fails to comply.

Breton reminded Musk on Twitter on Thursday about a conversation they'd had earlier this year, tweeting a video in which Musk said he agreed with everything the EU was doing with the DSA. But Breton's tweet is also a warning to the new Twitter boss that Breton is watching closely and is ready to hold Musk accountable if it comes to that.

"At this stage, it is mainly posturing and positioning," said internet policy expert Konstantinos Komaitis. "It looks like the fight -- if there's one -- will be about the way Elon Musk understands free speech and the way Europe affords it via the DSA."

One of the central facets of the DSA is about ensuring that what is illegal offline is also illegal online -- something Musk will have no choice but to comply with. But tension could arise with how Musk chooses to deal with content that's harmful but not illegal. 

Musk has already expressed strong views on free speech, hinting that he won't take a heavy-handed approach to moderation. Whether the EU feels this approach is compliant with the DSA remains to be seen, but this will be something to keep a close eye on as the act comes into force next month.