By Christian Kraemer and Matthias Williams
BERLIN (Reuters) -A senior German official said on Thursday Twitter should join other tech firms in being directly monitored by the European Commission, saying the company’s erratic behaviour under new owner Elon Musk posed a threat to free speech.
Sven Giegold, the state secretary in charge of competition policy at Germany’s economy ministry, pointed to Twitter’s abrupt suspension of journalists’ accounts and restrictions on the access to some links.
In a letter to two European Commissioners, Giegold called on the EU to launch an investigation and said the Commission should act to prevent what he called Twitter’s “anti-competitive behaviour”.
Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The European Commission confirmed receiving the letter and said it would reply in due course, adding that it was following the developments at Twitter closely.
“General terms and conditions that change almost every hour, erratic justifications for extensive restrictions on links and the blocking of journalists threaten freedom of competition and pose a risk to freedom of expression, information and the press,” Giegold wrote on Twitter, while sharing his letter.
Musk on Tuesday said he was stepping down as Twitter chief executive.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has previously said it was monitoring developments at the social media company with growing concern.
German regulators are already pushing government institutions to stop posting announcements exclusively to privately-held platforms, touting alternatives like the fledgling decentralised social media network Mastodon.
According to the Commission’s new regulations on digital markets, it will take over the supervision of large platforms such as Facebook and Google, Giegold said.
“However, Twitter is not yet classified as a dominant digital platform, also because the company’s sales are still too low,” he said. “Nevertheless, Twitter exerts a great influence on shaping public opinion worldwide and also in Europe.”
The European Commission also said that it was working quickly to implement the new regulations on digital markets, adding: “As regards Twitter and the latest developments: The power of the big platforms over public discourse needs necessary safeguards so that fundamental rights are effectively protected.”
Echoing Giegold’s remarks, the Commission said that some companies could be classified as “gatekeepers” of information – and therefore fall under the Commission’s new regulations – “on the basis of a qualitative assessment, even if it does not meet the quantitative thresholds.”
(Additional reporting by Kate AbnettEditing by Mark Potter and Jane Merriman)