A senior European Union official accused X (formerly Twitter) of being the top purveyor of disinformation and issued a veiled threat, prompting owner Elon Musk to push back by posting a video highlighting waning vaccine effectiveness and captioning it with a play on words: "have you heard dis information?"
Unlike competitors like Facebook and Google, Mr. Musk's X has refused to participate in the European Union's (EU) voluntary anti-disinformation effort called the 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation.
While the code is non-binding, companies that take part can ease some of their compliance requirements under the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA), which kicked in at the end of August and is mandatory for the biggest tech platforms with over 45 million users in the EU, including X.
After earlier reprimanding Mr. Musk and X for lacking the appetite to self-censor and not taking the EU's fight against "disinformation" seriously, the EU ramped up its rhetoric on Sept. 26, the day that social media companies like Facebook and Google—but not X—published reports on compliance with the bloc's new "disinformation" code.
Highlighting their frustration with "free speech absolutist" Mr. Musk's pledge to keep online expression on X as free as possible, EU officials on Tuesday warned the billionaire tech mogul to toe the line of self-censorship—or else.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the EU's top commissar on disinformation—European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova—singled out X as being "the platform with the largest ratio of mis- or disinformation posts."
She also warned Mr. Musk that X falls under the mandatory Digital Services Act and its strict content rules on "disinformation" and warned at a press conference that "we will be watching what you are doing."
For his part, Mr. Musk reacted to the warning in a series of memes posted on X, including one poking fun at his competitors' apparent eagerness to comply with the EU's censors, and another on waning vaccine effectiveness.
"Have you heard dis information?" Mr. Musk captioned the vaccine-related post, a play on words swapping "dis" for "this," in an apparent playful bid to court some controversy in context of the EU's censorship-related finger-wagging.
The video compilation is of COVID-19 vaccine news headlines and their evolution from the bold initial claims early in the pandemic that the vaccines are "100 percent effective" before steadily dropping lower and lower.
"The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was only 47% effective after 5 months?" reads one of the later headlines, followed by even more negative headlines like "Sweden, Denmark Halt Moderna's Covid Shot for Younger People," and, finally, ones about vaccine-maker profitability.
"As COVID Vaccines Drive Record Profits, CEOs Get Ultra Rich Off Massive Pay Packages, Questionable Stock Sales," reads another headline in the meme posted by Mr. Musk.
'That Was Messed Up'Mr. Musk's meme on waning vaccine efficacy drew a number of comments, including one by political journalist Ed Krassenstein, who challenged the post.
"I think efficacy changes are a result of new strains and the vaccine immunity wearing off. It’s stupid anyone ever claimed it was 100% effective. No vaccine is 100% full-proof," he wrote.
Mr. Musk replied by saying that he's not against vaccines in principle, but he opposes mandates forcing people to get the shot.
"My concern was more the outrageous demand that people *must* take the vaccine and multiple boosters to do anything at all. That was messed up," Mr. Musk wrote.
He added that until the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated President Joe Biden's executive order imposing a vaccine-or-test mandate for large companies, his company SpaceX "and many other other companies would have been forced to fire anyone who refused to get vaccinated!"
"We would not have done so. I would rather go to prison than fire good people who didn’t want to be jabbed," Mr. Musk continued.
Mr. Musk also said that he got COVID-19 and experienced "mild cold symptoms," but took vaccines repeatedly for travel.
"The third shot almost sent me to hospital," Mr. Musk said.
"How many other people out there have symptoms that are actually from the vaccine or COVID treatment, rather than COVID itself?" he asked.
"It’s not like I don’t believe in vaccines—I do. However, the cure cannot be potentially worse than the disease," he added, referring to the growing amount of data suggesting that COVID-19 vaccine side effects are more serious than previously claimed.
"Public debate over efficacy should not be shut down," Mr. Musk continued.
There have been reports linking spike-protein-based COVID-19 vaccines to skin problems, a dull ringing in the ears known as tinnitus, visual impairments, blood clotting, and even death.
Mr. Musk added, however, that he believes "there is also great potential for curing many diseases using synthetic mRNA, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water."
'We Will Be Watching'While X quit the voluntary code in May, it counts as a "very large online platform" under the mandatory DSA and so is subject to stricter content rules. Ms. Jourova reminded Mr. Musk of the fact that the EU has enforcement tools to pressure the platform into compliance with its content laws.
"Mr. Musk knows that he is not off the hook by leaving the code of practice because now we have the Digital Services Act fully enforced," Ms. Jourova said. "So my message for Twitter [X] is you have to comply with the hard law and we will be watching what you are doing."
Ms. Jourova made the remarks while providing an update on the 27-nation EU's 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation, which companies like Google, TikTok, and Facebook parent Meta signed up for, but which Mr. Musk's X has snubbed.
In addition to providing an update on how the platforms were complying with the code, the European Commission (EC)—which is the EU's executive arm—also released a series of compliance reports that show what the platforms (with the exception of X) did over the past six months to fight "disinformation."
'Safe Space'The new rules force tech companies to police content more stringently in order to protect European users against what the DSA labels as "disinformation" and "hate speech."
There are stricter safeguards for minors involving system redesigns, privacy, and mental health-risk assessments.
Child-focused profiling in ads is banned, and platforms must address content risks, enforce terms, and expedite user reports.
Under the rules, the 19 very large platforms will fund a permanent EC taskforce on disinformation of about 230 staffers who will be arbiters of what counts as approved content.
The platforms will have to publish annual risk assessments while pledging to remove offending content.
In the words of EC President Ursula von der Leyen, the aim of the DSA is to "ensure that the online environment remains a safe space."