eSafety Commissioner Accuses Musk’s X of Creating a ‘Perfect Storm’ for Online Hate

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From May 2022 to 2023, the eSafety Commission received more complaints about online hate from X than any other service.

Australia’s eSafety commissioner has lambasted social media platform X for breeding “online hate” after it was revealed that the platform, formerly named Twitter, reduced the number of moderators by more than half.

This comes after the watchdog commenced civil penalty proceedings against X for its failure to provide a report on how the platform would meet the Australian government’s Basic Online Safety Expectations in relation to child sexual abuse material on the site. X was fined $610,500 (US$410,242) by the commissioner, which it has not yet paid.

Since Elon Musk’s October 2022 acquisition, X has reinstated over 6,100 previously banned Australian accounts, 194 of which were previously suspended for “hateful conduct violations.” Over 62,000 suspended accounts have been reinstated globally.

Additionally, X’s global trust and safety staff have been reduced by a third, including an 80 percent reduction in safety engineers and global public policy staff.

“It’s almost inevitable that any social media platform will become more toxic and less safe for users if you combine significant reductions to safety and local public policy personnel with thousands of account reinstatements of previously banned users,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said in a Jan. 11 media release.

“You’re really creating a bit of a perfect storm,” Ms. Grant said. “A number of these reinstated users were previously banned for online hate. If you let the worst offenders back on while at the same time significantly reducing trust and safety personnel whose job it is to protect users from harm, there are clear concerns about the implications for the safety of users.”

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From May 2022 to 2023, the eSafety Commission received more complaints about online hate from X than any other service.

The eSafety Commission found that X was 20 percent slower in responding to hateful tweets since Mr. Musk’s takeover, while response times to hateful direct messages slowed by 75 percent, with users not receiving a response for up to 28 hours.

“And despite these accounts previously breaching Twitter/X’s rules, X Corp. said it did not place any of these accounts under additional scrutiny following their reinstatement,” the eSafety commissioner said.

A loss of Australian staff in particular had also limited X’s ability to engage with local communities affected by online hate, like Indigenous youth, the commissioner said.

In response, X said it had not formally engaged with any Indigenous organisations since it reduced its Australian public policy staff in May 2023.

Additionally, X said there is no full-time staff specifically dedicated to hateful conduct issues globally.

The platform also did not have any tools to detect “pile-ons,” which are in breach of its own targeted harassment policy.

“I liken these attacks to someone trying to swat individual bees when they are engulfed by a killer swarm. It can feel quite overwhelming and be very damaging for the target,” Ms. Grant said.

In November 2023, X was kicked out of Australia’s voluntary misinformation and disinformation code after it failed to respond to complaints of misinformation during The Voice referendum.

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