Australia’s online safety watchdog demands answers from Twitter on how it’s tackling online hate

CANBERRA – Australia’s online safety watchdog has issued a legal notice to Twitter demanding an explanation of what the social media giant is doing to combat a wave of online hate since Tesla CEO Elon Musk said bought the platform.

Australia’s eSafety Commission describes itself as the world’s first government agency dedicated to keeping people safe online. The agency said on Thursday it had received more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past 12 months than any other platform and had received a growing number of reports of serious online abuse. since Musk took over the company in October.

The Australian agency’s boss, eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, said she sent a notice to the San Francisco-based company on Wednesday with 36 detailed questions about how Twitter’s hateful behavior policies are enforced. .

If Twitter does not respond with factual and truthful answers to all questions within 28 days, an Australian judge could fine the company up to 700,000 Australian dollars ($476,000) for each day of delay. , said Inman Grant.

“The whole idea of ​​baseline online safety expectations is that global companies like Twitter enforce their own policies…and have the people and technology to keep their platforms safe,” said Inman Grant.

“They have one Hate Conduct Policy which says you can’t directly attack other people based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc., and I want to know if they basically enforce that policy and to what extent they do” , she added.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The eSafety advisory follows Musk’s announcement in November that he was granting “amnesty” for suspended accounts. This led to the reinstatement of 62,000 banned or suspended users on the platform, including 75 accounts with more than one million subscribers each, eSafety said in a statement.

Twitter’s global workforce had been reduced under Musk from 8,000 employees to 1,500, with trust and safety teams eliminated. Twitter had pulled all public policy staff from Australia.

Inman Grant said Indigenous Australians, people with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQ+ experience online hate twice as much as other Australians.

“A third of all online hate reports to our office come from Twitter. It’s been a huge push since October 22 when Elon Musk took over,” Inman Grant told Australian Broadcasting Corp. absolute.

“A lot of the changes to the algorithms made people feel like they were seeing more toxicity, a lot more crude speech. But without lifting the hood and using those powers of transparency, we really don’t know what’s going on and that’s where we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” she added.

Australians are not alone in their increasingly hostile experience with Twitter. US advocacy group GLAAD said last week that all major social media platforms were doing poorly in protecting LGBTQ+ users from hate speech and harassment. But Twitter was the worst.

In its annual Social Media Safety Index, GLAAD gave Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter low or insufficient scores, saying the platforms aren’t doing enough to keep their users safe. That said, most have improved over the past year.

Twitter was the only exception. GLAAD’s dashboard called it “the most dangerous platform for LGBTQ people” and the only one to see its scores drop from a year ago – to 33% from 45% a year ago.

UK advocacy group Center for Countering Digital Hate found cases of racial slurs on Twitter skyrocketed immediately after Musk bought the company.

A racial epithet used to attack black people was found more than 26,000 times in the week after Musk’s takeover — three times the 2022 average, the center found.

The center also found that users who pay for a Twitter Blue Check appeared to enjoy a level of impunity from the platform’s rules on online hate.

Inman Grant chairs the Global Network of Online Safety Regulators, which was formed with UK, Irish and Fijian online harm regulators in November to coordinate online safety issues. Each of the 27 states of the European Union will soon have its own online damage regulator.

Inman Grant said Australia was talking with other national regulators to share information and how they could take joint regulatory action.

“We will work with other governments to make sure we put the spotlight on these companies and get them to improve their standards by doing the right thing,” she said.

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