As EU labels X/Twitter as largest spreader of Russian misinformation, researcher claims platform disabled reporting feature
Australian research group that seeks to counter online misinformation writes to Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter), alleging the platform disabled a feature that let users report misinformation about elections.
Reset.Tech Australia in an open letter on Tuesday addressed to Angus Keene, Twitter’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, expressed its “urgent concerns about the ability for users to report electoral misinformation on your platform.”
The research group’s claim comes just days after the European Union warned tech firms to do more to combat Russian disinformation campaigns ahead of elections in Europe.
At the same time European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova singled out Elon Musk’s Twitter/X – specifically listed it as being the largest spreader of Russian lies and propaganda, out of all large social media platforms.
After introducing a feature in 2022 for users to report a post they considered misleading about politics, X in the past week removed the “politics” category from its drop-down menu in every jurisdiction but the European Union, Reset.Tech Australia has alleged.
“There now appears to be no channel to report electoral misinformation when discovered on your platform,” wrote Reset.Tech Australia in its open letter. “We do not believe the loss of this feature is limited to Reset.Tech, rather, we believe all Australians are affected. We know of five separate individuals across Australia who have looked and are unable to report electoral misinformation. We believe this change occurred in the last week or two.”
“It is extremely concerning that Australians would lose the ability to report serious misinformation weeks away from a major referendum,” the letter added.
The research group said that a recent change to X’s reporting process appears to have left Australian users unable to report electoral misinformation. It said this is because the categories for reporting in Australia offer no option to report electoral misinformation.
Instead users are offered inappropriate categories such as hate speech, abuse, spam, imitation etc.
Previously Australian users could select ‘It’s misleading’ about ‘Politics’ category, the letter states, adding the removal of the feature comes “at a disastrous point in time for Australia’s electoral integrity.”
In three weeks time Australia is to hold a referendum for the first time in a quarter century, on whether to change the constitution to establish an Indigenous advisory body to the Australian parliament. The removal of the feature also comes 14 months before a US presidential election.
The group also warned X that the removal of the feature “breaches your commitments under Australia’s misinformation code. Under Digi’s Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation.”
“We look forward to a timely reply, given the importance of ensuring the safety of Australia’s electoral integrity at the current time,” the letter concludes. “Given our grave concerns about the risk of electoral harm and recent, publicly documented difficulties concerned stakeholders face attempting to contact X, we have decided to share this as an open letter.”
Elon Musk has tended to adopt a hand off approach to content moderation, defaulting to Musk’s ‘free speech’ preference first and foremost.
For example Elon Musk withdrew Twitter from the EU’s voluntary code of practice in May this year.
Industry commissioner Thierry Breton however warned at the time that Twitter’s legal obligations on disinformation remained.
The European Commission in February had slammed Twitter’s compliance with the code, saying its efforts were falling short of those of its peers.