Australia Pressures Twitter Over Online Hate

(Photo Credit: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash)

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Twitter won’t be able to respond to its latest crisis with the automated poop emoji email it sends to all inquiring journalists.

Australia’s internet watchdog the eSafety Commission said Thursday it has sent Twitter a legal notice demanding it disclose exactly what processes it has in place for curbing hateful conduct on its platform. While regulators and politicians around the world have made rumblings in the past about Twitter’s safety enforcement following Elon Musk’s takeover and draconian downsizing, this is the first time a regulator is threatening to hit it in the wallet.

You Call That A Regulatory Body?

When Musk agreed to buy Twitter he seemed eager to placate regulators that his free-speech/laissez-faire ideals wouldn’t make Twitter incompatible with local laws. In May 2022, he released a video with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton in which the pair enthusiastically agreed Twitter would comply with Europe’s Digital Services Act (DSA), which will introduce broad guardrails on how online platforms wrangle harmful content. “I think we’re very much of the same mind,” Musk said at the time.

A lot can happen in a year. Just last month, Breton said Musk had pulled Twitter out of the EU’s voluntary disinformation agreement. The DSA will come into force on August 25 and Breton issued an ominous tweet, of all mediums: “you can run but you can’t hide.” In the meantime, Australia is moving even faster than Europe to bring Twitter to heel:

  • The eSafety Commission said it has received an “increasing number of reports of serious online abuse” on Twitter since Musk took over, and added it received more complaints about abuse on Twitter in the last 12 months than any other platform.
  • “Twitter appears to have dropped the ball on tackling hate. A third of all complaints about online hate reported to us are now happening on Twitter,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said in a statement. Pretty impressive given Twitter’s user base is orders of magnitude smaller than platforms like YouTube and Instagram.

Twitter has 28 days to send the commission a detailed report of how it’s responding to online hate, and if it fails to do so it’ll face daily fines of $473,000.

New Sheriff: Australia’s demand comes right as new CEO Linda Yaccarino is trying to re-weave the tapestry Musk unpicked. After he took over, Twitter stopped paying various bills (e.g. rent), but both Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Yaccarino had resumed paying bills to Google for its cloud services, which sources told the WSJ amounted to over $20 million per month. Twitter also dispatched a cadre of execs to Cannes this month to try to win back a little faith from the advertising world, which involves a different kind of hate problem.