Europe gives TikTok CEO 24 hours to respond about Israel-Hamas war misinformation

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 23, 2023.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

European regulator Thierry Breton shared a stern letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Thursday, claiming his office has “indications” that the platform is being used to distribute disinformation and illegal content around the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Breton serves as the European commissioner for the internal market. He said TikTok must be “timely, diligent and objective” about removing misinformation, particularly since minors often turn to the platform as a source of news.

Breton issued similar letters to X owner Elon Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week.

“First, given that your platform is extensively used by children and teenagers, you have a particular obligation to protect them from violent content depicting hostage taking and other graphic videos which are reportedly widely circulating on your platform, without appropriate safeguards,” Breton wrote in the letter.

Under the European Union’s newly enacted Digital Services Act, TikTok must monitor and remove illegal content such as terrorist content or illegal hate speech. TikTok also has to detail its protocols for doing so.

Failure to comply with the European regulations around illegal content could result in fines worth 6% of a company’s annual revenue.

Breton called on TikTok to step up its efforts and contact proper law enforcement authorities. He asked Chew to respond to his letter within 24 hours.

“TikTok has a particular obligation to protect children and teenagers from violent content and terrorist propaganda —as well as death challenges & potentially life-threatening content,” Breton said in a post on Bluesky Social, a competitor to X, formerly known as Twitter.

A TikTok spokesperson said that the company has received the letter and intends to respond. The spokesperson also directed CNBC to resources about how the platform is fulfilling its DSA commitments.

On Tuesday, Breton urged Musk to detail X’s crisis measures since his office had received reports of “violent and terrorist” content as well as “fake and manipulated images” on the platform.

X CEO Linda Yaccarino responded Thursday and said that after Hamas’ attack on Israel, the company “assembled a leadership group to assess the situation” and has “identified and removed hundreds of Hamas-affiliated accounts” since the start of the war, according to a letter she posted on X.

On Wednesday, Breton urged Zuckerberg to be “vigilant” about removing disinformation on his company’s platforms during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and ahead of upcoming elections. Meta owns popular social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, as well as Threads, the company’s X competitor.

A Meta spokesperson told CNBC that the company is “working around the clock” to keep its platforms safe.

“After the terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel on Saturday, we quickly established a special operations center staffed with experts, including fluent Hebrew and Arabic speakers, to closely monitor and respond to this rapidly evolving situation,” the spokesperson said.

More CNBC coverage of the Israel-Hamas war



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