An Australian regulatory body has imposed a fine of $386,000 on Elon Musk’s social media platform X due to its non-compliance with an investigation into anti-child abuse practices.
The e-Safety Commission decided to fine X, the platform formerly known as Twitter after Musk’s rebranding, for its failure to cooperate fully. This included a lack of response to inquiries about their response time to reports of child abuse material on the platform and the methods employed for its detection.
While this fine may appear relatively small in the context of the $44 billion Musk paid for the website in October 2022, it does pose a significant blow to the platform’s reputation. X has been grappling with a continuous decline in revenue as advertisers reduced their spending on a platform that significantly scaled back content moderation and reinstated numerous previously banned accounts.
Adding to their woes, the European Union has initiated an investigation into X for potential violations of its new tech regulations. This action comes in the wake of allegations that the platform failed to control the spread of disinformation related to Hamas’s attack on Israel, casting further shadows over its operations.
“If you’ve got answers to questions, if you’re actually putting people, processes and technology in place to tackle illegal content at scale, and globally, and if it’s your stated priority, it’s pretty easy to say,” Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said in an interview.
“The only reason I can see to fail to answer important questions about illegal content and conduct happening on platforms would be if you don’t have answers,” added Inman Grant, who was a public policy director for X until 2016.
X closed its Australian office after Musk’s buyout, so there was no local representative to respond to Reuters. A request for comment sent to the San Francisco-based company’s media email address was not immediately answered.
Under Australian laws that took effect in 2021, the regulator can compel internet companies to give information about their online safety practices or face a fine. If X refuses to pay the fine, the regulator can pursue the company in court, Grant said.
After taking the company private, Musk said in a post that “removing child exploitation is priority #1”. But the Australian regulator said that when it asked X how it prevented child grooming on the platform, X responded that it was “not a service used by large numbers of young people”.
X told the regulator available anti-grooming technology was “not of sufficient capability or accuracy to be deployed on Twitter”.
Inman Grant said the commission also issued a warning to Alphabet’s Google for noncompliance with its request for information about the handling of child abuse content, calling the search engine giant’s responses to some questions “generic”. Google said it had cooperated with the regulator and was disappointed by the warning.
“We remain committed to these efforts and are collaborating constructively and in good faith with the e-Safety Commissioner, government, and industry on the shared goal of keeping Australians safer online,” said Google’s director of government affairs and public policy for Australia, Lucinda Longcroft.
X’s noncompliance was more serious, the regulator said, including failure to answer questions about how long it took to respond to reports of child abuse, steps it took to detect child abuse in live streams, and its numbers of content moderation, safety, and public policy staff.
The company confirmed to the regulator that it had cut 80% of its workforce globally and has no public policy staff in Australia, compared to two before Musk’s takeover.
X told the regulator that its proactive detection of child abuse material in public posts dropped after Musk took the company private.
The company told the regulator it did not use tools to detect the material in private messages because “the technology is still in development”, the regulator said.
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