Australia calls Twitter top platform for online hate

One in three complaints about online hate in Australia are related to Twitter, even though it has far fewer users than other social media sites, the country’s internet safety watchdog said.

It’s official: more than half a year after Elon Musk, the self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” took control of Twitter, it has become the platform Australians complain about most. The site now faces regulatory scrutiny.

The eSafety Commissioner in Australia announced it had sent Twitter a legal notice, demanding answers about how the platform is tackling online hate.

The site has been given 28 days to clean up “toxicity and hate,” and it will be fined if it fails to comply. The maximum financial penalties of nearly $700,000 Australian dollars a day could be applied.

According to eSafety, it has received more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past 12 months than any other platform.

Commissioner Julie Inman Grant admitted that Twitter’s terms of use and policies currently prohibit hateful conduct on the platform.

But the sheer number of complaints and reports of this content remaining publicly visible on the platform shows that Twitter is not likely to be enforcing its own rules, said Inman Grant.

“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,” said Inman Grant, who worked on cyber safety at the company after 17 years at Microsoft.

“We are also aware of reports that the reinstatement of some of these previously banned accounts has emboldened extreme polarizers, peddlers of outrage and hate, including neo-Nazis both in Australia and overseas.”

Musk indeed announced a “general amnesty” in November 2022. Around 62,000 previously banned or suspended users were reinstated to the platform, and many Twitter-watchers soon noticed that most extremist accounts were again engaging in hateful online behavior.

After buying Twitter, Musk initiated the departure of around 80% of the company’s workforce, and, even though a surge in misinformation and hate speech was noticed, soon disbanded the volunteer Trust and Safety Council. Many employees in Twitter’s trust and safety teams also left or were laid off.

However, in the face of increasing regulatory pressure in the US, the European Union and elsewhere, Musk might be changing tack. He has hired a new chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, who said last week that she wanted to turn Twitter into a reliable news source.

And even though Twitter left the EU’s voluntary pact against disinformation in late May, Musk said that Twitter will comply with the bloc’s new Digital Services Act (DSA) which will force tech companies to crack down on hate speech, disinformation, and other harmful material on their sites.

“If laws are passed, Twitter will obey the law,” Musk told the France 2 TV channel this week when asked about the DSA. Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner who oversees digital policy, is currently visiting Twitter HQ to check whether Twitter is ready to comply with the strict new standards.

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