eSafety issues Twitter with legal notice after surge in cyber abuse

Twitter has been ordered to detail efforts to prevent online hate on its social media platform in Australia or face fines after a surge in cyber abuse complaints to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

The social media giant was issued with a legal notice on Wednesday, with civil penalties of nearly $700,000-a-day available to eSafety under the Online Safety Act if the company fails to respond within 28 days.

The notice comes less than six months after Twitter, along with TikTok, Google, Amazon’s Twitch and Discord, was issued with another legal notice asking the company to detail efforts to tackle child exploitation material, to which it has responded.

Image: Diatel

eSafety said the action followed a notable increase in reports of serious online abuse since Elon Musk’s takeover of the company in October last year. More complaints to the regulator about online hate on Twitter were received in the past 12 months than for any other platform.

The increase coincides with significant cuts to Twitter’s global workforce, which has fallen from 8,000 to 1,500. This includes the company’s 40-strong Australian workforce, including trust and safety personnel.

It also follows last year’s “general amnesty”, which saw Twitter 62,000 reinstate banned or suspended users to the platform, including 75 accounts with over 1 million followers. The amnesty came days after the account of former US president Donald Trump was restored.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said that despite terms of use and policies prohibiting hateful conduct on the platform, the rising complaints shows Twitter is not likely to be enforcing its own rules.

“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,” Ms Inman Grant said in a statement on Thursday.

“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.”

eSafety’s concerns are shared by others internationally, with research from UK-based Center for Countering Digital Hate showing that racial slurs against African Amercians now average 3,876 times a day, up from 1,282 before the arrival of Mr Musk.

If Twitter fails to respond to the legal notice – which relates to the Basic Online Safety Expectations (BOSE) that apply to social media providers – within 28 days, the company could face penalties of up to $700,000-a-day.

“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,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Communications minister Michelle Rowland welcomed the eSafety Commissioner’s decision, saying the government expects industry to “do their fair share” to reduce the harms experienced by Australians.

“People have a right to be free from abuse and harassment online. Platform are expected to enforce their own terms of service in relation to online hate and abuse, and this is a matter we are monitoring closely in consultation with the eSafety Commissioner,” she said.

In a letter to Twitter in February, Minister Rowland warned the company that its approach to trust and safety in Australia was “lacking”, but she never received a reply.

Last month, Greens Senator David Shoebridge questioned the effectiveness of the penalty regime available to the eSafety Commissioner under the Online Safety Act, describing it as being like threatening Mr Musk with a “wet lettuce”.

Twitter’s senior director of public policy for Japan and the Asia-Pacific, Kathleen Reen, will front a Senate inquiry into foreign interference through social media with head of global government affairs, Nick Pickles, next month.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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