Twitter’s decision to close its Brussels headquarters and lay off hundreds of workers raises concerns about the company’s ability to comply with new strict European Union rules against illicit online content.
Twitter’s Brussels office was the spotlight for everything linked to the Union’s digital policy. The Twitter team in Brussels actively engaged in creating the EU’s digital policies and collaborated with key members of the European Commission. While it may appear that the benefits of having a Twitter headquarters in Brussels benefited just the EU, Twitter benefited as well.
According to sources with direct knowledge of the exit, the small office of six staff was downsized to two recently due to Elon Musk’s huge workforce reduction. The last two members quit the previous week after Musk demanded that employees engage in a “hardcore working culture”.
Dario La Nasa and Julia Mozer, who had been in charge of Twitter’s digital policy in Europe, were the last two to leave. The two had survived an initial purge when Elon Musk laid off hundreds of staff following his acquisition the previous month.
They worked to ensure that Twitter complied with significant Big Tech laws that took effect in the EU last week. The Digital Services Act establishes new standards for disinformation, advertising, and unlawful content, extending to other major platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok.
Other Brussels executives were laid off on November 4th amidst Twitter’s 7,500 staff layoff drive. Without any employees in Brussels, Twitter may break the new rule intentionally or just because the firm no longer has local experts to assist it in understanding its new obligations. Included in the mass exodus of staff from Twitter was Stephen Turner, Head of the Brussels Office, who tweeted:
European regulators and officials have not failed to demand that Twitter stick to its regulatory requirements. Hours after the acquisition, European Commissioner Thierry Breton issued a warning to Musk, calling the firm to comply with the laws.
The EU’s Digital Services Act offers governments more power to enforce laws governing how tech companies regulate content and decide when to remove illicit content. If Musk does not comply, Twitter could face fines of up to 6% of annual revenue and perhaps be banned.
Compliance will be challenging and costly. The large internet platforms, including Twitter, will need to introduce tools for users to report illegal content and hire enough employees to monitor content across the EU by the end of the summer. The firm will also need to provide a risk assessment demonstrating how it reduces legal but damaging content, such as harassment and disinformation. The commission could order Twitter to adjust its algorithm or even raid its headquarters to guarantee compliance with the new guidelines.
In the United States, a team of senators has also asked the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Twitter disobeyed its consumer protection laws or consent decree while under Musk’s control.
The closing of Twitter’s Brussels office comes amid rumors of more widespread staffing issues in the company’s major European and global offices. Particularly significant are departures from Twitter’s Dublin, Ireland branch, critical to the company’s compliance with the EU’s strict General Data Protection Regulation. Ireland’s privacy regulator has already expressed worries about Twitter’s staffing ratios and ability to maintain compliance with the EU’s data protection standards, which can result in fines of up to 4% of global revenue.
Fears about increased amounts of misinformation on the platform had intensified since Musk’s takeover when he allowed anyone to be verified for $8. This resulted in trolls pretending to be George W. Bush, Tony Blair, other public figures, and businesses like Nintendo and McDonald’s.
Musk has subsequently put the paid verification program on hold, but he’ll probably resume it shortly.