Could Europe ban X in 2024?

The European Union has opened an investigation into X, formerly Twitter, for breaches of the Digital Services Act – but could it lead to a ban?

Elon Musk has long flouted the rules in whatever enterprise he undertakes. It’s part of the billionaire’s aura that he’s a disruptive, rebellious leader – and part of his success at turning around world-leading products in timescales that others can’t imagine.

But following his October 2022 takeover of Twitter, since renamed X, for $44 billion, Musk has started to learn that his old ways of doing things won’t cut it in the world of social media.

One of the reasons that Musk sought to buy Twitter was because of its role as the “de facto public square,” and the vital position it has in fostering public debate online. But it’s precisely the importance of the platform that could land Musk in hot water – because his traditional way of doing things, where rules and regulations are sometimes seen as optional, doesn’t work for a technology seen as so integral to the running of society in the 21st century.

The investigation begins

As the owner of a large social media platform, Musk is required to follow a number of rules that bind him more stringently to run X in a logical way. One of the largest and most binding is the Digital Services Act (DSA), which requires social media platforms to follow a series of rules that are designed to reassure users about the quality of information shared on those platforms.

Requirements under the DSA include the need to report the level of disinformation and illegal activity on large social media platforms like X – and the European Commission is concerned that X hasn’t adhered to its full requirements.

“The higher the risk large platforms pose to our society, the more specific the requirements of the Digital Services Act are,” says Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age. “We take any breach of our rules very seriously.”

Why Europe is investigating

The supposition that Europe has is that X under Elon Musk has breached its rules, particularly on stopping the dissemination of illegal content, tackling disinformation, a lack of transparency, and the deceptive design of the platform. “The evidence we currently have is enough to formally open a proceeding against X,” says Vestager. “The Commission will carefully investigate X's compliance with the DSA, to ensure European citizens are safeguarded online – as the regulation mandates.”

While the evidence exists for Europe to open a proceeding – or investigation – against X, it doesn’t mean that action will necessarily be taken. However, it does signal that Europe thinks something has gone awry at the platform – and the opportunity to ban the platform in its entirety is on the table.

The “opening of formal proceedings against X makes it clear that, with the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are ‘too big to care’ has come to an end,” says Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market. “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.”

Could X be banned?

The big question that Musk – alongside the hundreds of millions of users of X – will be asking is whether Europe could end up banning X this year. While the European Commission has not set a deadline by which it expects to conclude its investigation, it is a live and ongoing inquiry and could result in fines or outright banning.

Much depends on the platform’s engagement with the investigation as to whether it will judge X harshly or leniently. But another factor is at play: this is the first proceeding brought under the newly-introduced DSA that Europe has made one of its core, landmark pieces of legislation.

As such, it seems likely that Europe might want to set an example for other platforms that think they can flout the rules – and could come down more heavily on X for any infractions.