Australian regulator demands Twitter explain its handling of online hate, as complaints surge after Elon Musk lifted account ban
Twitter is facing regulatory scrutiny by the cyber regulator in Australia over its alleged failure to tackle online hate on its platform.
The eSafety Commissioner in Australia announced it has sent Twitter a legal notice, demanding answers about how it is tackling online hate.
Twitter is facing growing regulatory scrutiny over tackling online hate, after owner Elon Musk began mass firings at the company, that resulted in the departure of 80 percent of Twitter’s workforce, including most of its trust and safety teams, teams.
Twitter is obliged to remove illegal hate speech under laws in multiple jurisdictions including the UK and the EU, and Musk has previously told EU regulators he will abide by those rules.
Elon Musk in an interview with the BBC in April admitted he had axed 80 percent of Twitter’s workforce, but he challenged the broadcaster after he was asked about the rise in online hate on the platform.
In his interview with the BBC, Musk defended his controversial running of the company, and denied there has been a surge in misinformation and hate speech on the platform (despite some studies finding the opposite).
The BBC later reported that in-depth studies have actually indicated hate speech has been growing under Musk’s tenure, with the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a London-based campaign group, finding slurs increased substantially after the takeover.
Elon Musk has also gutted Twitter’s external contractor teams, whose role was to ensure the platform was free of misinformation and hate.
In December 2022, Twitter also disbanded the volunteer group (the Trust and Safety Council) which advised it on self-harm, child abuse and hate speech.
The group had been notified it had been disbanded one hour before it was due to hold a Zoom meeting with Twitter executives.
Surge in complaints
“eSafety received more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past 12 months than any other platform and has received an increasing number of reports of serious online abuse since Elon Musk’s takeover of the company in October 2022,” noted the Australian regulator.
“The rise in complaints also coincides with a slashing of Twitter’s global workforce from 8,000 employees to 1,500 including in its trust and safety teams, coupled with ending its public policy presence in Australia,” the regulator added.
The regulator said that the surge in online hate on Twitter comes after Elon Musk announced a ‘general amnesty’ last November, which saw 62,000 banned or suspended users reinstated to the platform, including 75 accounts with over 1 million followers.
“We are seeing a worrying surge in hate online,” Inman Grant said. “eSafety research shows that nearly 1 in 5 Australians have experienced some form of online hate. This level of online abuse is already inexcusably high, but if you’re a First Nations Australian, you are disabled or identify as LGBTIQ+ you experience online hate at double the rate of the rest of the population.”
“Twitter appears to have dropped the ball on tackling hate,” Grant added. “A third of all complaints about online hate reported to us are now happening on Twitter.”
“We are also aware of reports that the reinstatement of some of these previously banned accounts has emboldened extreme polarisers, peddlers of outrage and hate, including neo-Nazis both in Australia and overseas,” said Grant.
“We need accountability from these platforms and action to protect their users and you cannot have accountability without transparency and that’s what legal notices like this one are designed to achieve,” Inman Grant said.
The Aussie regulator has already called on Twitter (and others) to detail its handling of online child abuse material, which it said has picked up on the website since Musk’s takeover.
If Twitter fails to respond to the most recent notice within 28 days, the company could face maximum financial penalties of nearly $700,000 a day for continuing breaches.
Earlier this month Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, confirmed her resignation – the second such departure from that role after the Elon Musk takeover
That resignation came a week after the platform withdrew from the European code of practice on disinformation.
Ella Irwin had assumed the role after Twitter’s previous head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, had suddenly left in November 2022 – a month after Musk took over the platform.
The departure of Roth last November had surprised many at the time as he had emerged as part of Musk’s new leadership team of Twitter 2.0, amid the chaos of the Musk takeover.
It was widely reported that Roth and his family had been forced to flee their home after Elon Musk misrepresented Roth’s academic writing about sexual activity and children.
All of those resignations has prompted the US FTC to say last November it was closely watching Elon Musk’s moves at Twitter “with deep concern.”