Australia gives Twitter 28 days to sort out ‘toxicity and hate’

One in three complaints about online hate in Australia are about the Musk-owned platform, even though it has far fewer users than other sites.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Twitter logo and a photo of Elon Musk are displayed through magnifier in this illustration taken October 27, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo/File Photo
Twitter has been under fire since Musk took over the platform last October [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Australia’s internet safety watchdog has given Twitter 28 days to clean up “toxicity and hate” on its platform, threatening to fine the company if it fails to comply.

Twitter has become Australia’s most complained about platform since Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest people and a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist”, took control of it last year.

The firm subsequently lifted bans on a reported 62,000 accounts, including those linked to people spouting Nazi rhetoric, and e-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the platform was now responsible for one-in-three complaints about online hate in Australia, even though it has far fewer users than TikTok, Facebook or Instagram.

Inman Grant, who once worked for Twitter, gave the company 28 days to show it was serious about tackling the problem or face fines of 700,000 Australian dollars ($476,000) for every day it missed the deadline.

“Twitter appears to have dropped the ball on tackling hate,” said Inman Grant, who worked on cyber safety at the company after 17 years at Microsoft.

“We need accountability from these platforms and action to protect their users, and you cannot have accountability without transparency,” she said.

Musk has fired more than 80 percent of the global workforce, including many of the content moderators responsible for stamping out abuse, since taking control of the company in October 2022.

But the company’s new CEO Linda Yaccarino appears to be taking a different tack, saying last week that her vision for Twitter was making it “the world’s most accurate real-time information source and a global town square for communication”.

‘Relentless racial filth’

The e-safety commissioner’s demand comes as Australia prepares for a referendum this year on whether to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution, prompting an increasingly intense debate about race.

Inman Grant said the watchdog was “far from being alone in its concern about increasing levels of toxicity and hate on Twitter, particularly targeting marginalised communities”.

Prominent Indigenous broadcaster Stan Grant cited targeted abuse – “relentless racial filth” – on Twitter when he announced a break from the media last month, the commissioner noted.

Specialist broadcaster National Indigenous Television also said it was taking a break from Twitter due to “the racism and hate that we experience every day on this platform”, it said in a tweet last month.

Inman Grant said she had asked Twitter to explain its impact assessments when reinstating banned accounts, how it engaged with communities who were subjected to online hate, and how it was enforcing its own policies to ban hateful conduct.

Australia has spearheaded the global drive to regulate social media platforms, and it is not the first time that Inman Grant has publicly singled out Twitter.

She wrote to Musk in November last year, expressing fears that the deep staff cuts would leave the company unable to meet Australian laws.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies