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Lawmakers take note: Elon Musk-owned X appears to have quietly complied with a hard legal requirement in the European Union that requires larger platforms (aka VLOPs) to provide researchers with data access in order to study systemic risks arising from use of their services -- risks such as disinformation, child safety issues, gender-based violence and mental heath concerns.
X (or Twitter as it was still called at the time) was designated a VLOP under the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA) back in April after the bloc's regulators confirmed it meets their criteria for an extra layer of rules to kick in that are intended to drive algorithmic accountability via applying transparency measures on larger platforms.
Researchers intending to study systemic risks in the EU now appear to at least be able to apply for access to study X's data by accessing a web form through a button which appears at the bottom of this page on its developer platform. (Note researchers can be based in the EU but don't have to be to meet the criteria; they just need to intend to study systemic risks in the EU.)
The development was spotted by data rights agency AWO's director, Mathias Vermeulen, who has tweeted a handy thread explaining how to go about applying for access...
X has - rather quietly - rolled out a new way to provide researchers access to public data on X, as required per article 40.12 of the Digital Services Act. How can you do get access? See the thread below 👇#dsa
— Mathias Vermeulen (@mathver) November 29, 2023
It's not clear if any researchers have actually been granted data access yet. But expect EU regulators to keep a close eye on that.
This inching open of access for researchers of regional risks runs counters to what Musk has been doing since he took over the social media platform -- which has included cranking up the cost to independent researchers of accessing useful amounts of data on X, suspending platform access for some and even threatening independent researchers with lawsuits.
He has also instigated a raft of other changes that have generally made it harder for X users to determine truth from lies, such as making account verification pay-to-play and removing labels on state-affiliated outlets operating in autocracies -- all of which have enabled the spread of a tsunami of disinformation and other problem content that's drawn critical attention from EU regulators.
But the dynamics of billionaire platform-owner power could be shifting, as the impact of the EU's DSA kicks in. Musk meet hard law! (Or as EU commissioner Thierry Breton might say, it's time to fly by the EU's rules.)
Researchers intending to study systemic risks in the EU should -- finally -- be able to sidestep Musk's arbitrary restrictions on data access and get a reliable pipeline of data from X, provided they meet criteria set out in the DSA. If Musk's company fails to send data to applicants who meet the law's criteria he risks enforcement action by the European Commission, which has the power to issue fines of up to 6% of global annual turnover under the DSA.
X's web form for applicants asks researchers to affirm they meet the regulation's criteria for data access, including asking for details of the organization they are affiliated with and their not-for-profit status; information about their funding sources; and evidence they are independent from "commercial interests".
Applicants must also affirm they are capable of securing any data provided by X; confirm the scope of the data they wish to receive; and provide details of their planned research project -- explaining how it will "contribute to the detection, identification and understanding of systemic risks in the Union pursuant to Article 34(1)" of the DSA. So there's some administrative hoops to jump through before -- hopefully -- getting the sought for data.
As we reported earlier this month, the opening up of access to EU risks researchers looked to be on the cards after X tweaked the language in its developer T&Cs to reflect legal requirements to enable researcher access to study systemic risks.
Funnily enough, Musk himself doesn't appear to have trumpeted this particular development to his 164.6 million followers on X.
We contacted X's press email for comment on the opening up of EU systemic risk researcher access but at the time of writing the company had only sent its standard automated response -- which reads: "Busy now, please check back later."
This report was updated with a clarification: We originally reported the law requires data access for EU-based researchers to study systemic risks; actually researchers do not have to be based in the EU to meet the criteria for access -- they just need to be focused on studying systemic risks in the EU