Australia Threatens to Fine Musk’s Twitter $700,000 Per Day Over Hate Speech

Australia Threatens to Fine Musk’s Twitter $700,000 Per Day Over Hate Speech

It’s not quite a cage match, but Australia’s online safety commissioner is ready to rumble with Elon Musk.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, who, if you remember, is actually a former regional Twitter exec herself, has issued a legal warning to the Musk-owned site, that could lead to a fine of up to $700,000 per day if ignored.

The eSafety Commission is seeking information and assurance from Twitter over how it is handling hate speech in the wake of Musk’s October 2022 takeover. In a press statement, the watchdog agency said it has received more hate complaints regarding Twitter than any other online platform in the past year, and that reports of abuse on Twitter have multiplied since the beginning of Musk’s reign — despite the site’s own policies.

“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. In support of that claim, the public announcement cites reports from LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD and the non-profit Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which both suggest Twitter is now at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to protecting its users.

With the eSafety Commission’s recent action, Twitter has 28 days to account for the worrying trends in its content. If the company ignores Inman Grant’s notice, it could face nearly half a million dollars in daily penalties for “continuing breaches.”

Through failing to moderate speech and other actions, like gutting its trust and safety team, and reinstating thousands of banned accounts — including those of known white supremacists — Twitter could be violating Australian law. The Online Safety Act 2021 mandates that social media providers take “reasonable steps” to ensure user safety, to minimise abuse, and to protect users from “abhorrent violent conduct.”

The Commission’s “regulatory powers under the Online Safety Act cover serious online abuse as well as the cyberbullying of children and image-based abuse. In some cases, hate speech may meet the statutory thresholds of adult cyber abuse,” the eSafety press release reminds us.

Additionally, our defamation and racial discrimination laws make it easier than in the U.S. to legally penalise someone who makes public statements insulting, attempting to intimidate, or belittling a person or group based on race. Using a slur or making an offensive joke in a public place is against the law, under Australia’s 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. And Twitter is, after all, a massive public forum — a “digital town square” as Musk himself has called it.

“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,” Inman Grant said. Unfortunately for Musk (and recently appointed Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino), designating a basic descriptor like “cisgender” as a slur probably doesn’t count.

This isn’t the first time Inman Grant’s committee has squared up with social media companies. In February, the agency sent a notice to Twitter, Google, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, and Discord demanding information on how each social network was addressing the issue of algorithmically promoted child sexual exploitation and abuse content. Currently, eSafety says it is assessing the responses it got and plans to release follow-up information soon.

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