Australia fines Musk’s X platform $386,000 over anti-child abuse gaps

Australian Regulator Fines Elon Musk’s X for Failing to Cooperate with Probe into Anti-Child Abuse Practices

In a recent development, Elon Musk’s social media platform, X, has been fined A$610,500 ($386,000) by an Australian regulator for its failure to cooperate with a probe into anti-child abuse practices. This setback comes at a time when the platform has been grappling with retaining advertisers due to concerns over its content moderation policies. The e-Safety Commission imposed the fine on X, formerly known as Twitter, after the company failed to respond to crucial questions regarding its response time to reports of child abuse material and the methods employed to detect such content.

While the fine may seem relatively small compared to Musk’s acquisition of the platform for $44 billion in October 2022, it is undoubtedly a blow to X’s reputation. The company has been experiencing a decline in revenue as advertisers reduce spending on a platform that has been criticized for its lenient content moderation policies and the reinstatement of numerous banned accounts. The European Union has also initiated an investigation into X for potential violations of its new tech rules, following allegations of the platform’s failure to curb disinformation related to Hamas’s attack on Israel.

Commissioner Julie Inman Grant expressed her disappointment with X’s lack of cooperation, stating, “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.” Inman Grant, who previously served as a public policy director for X, emphasized the importance of addressing illegal content and conduct on platforms.

X closed its Australian office after Musk’s acquisition, which left no local representative available to respond to inquiries. Reuters’ request for comment sent to the company’s media email address remained unanswered. Under Australian laws implemented in 2021, internet companies can be compelled to provide information about their online safety practices or face fines. If X refuses to pay the penalty, the regulator has the option to pursue legal action against the company.

Following the acquisition, Musk had declared that “removing child exploitation is priority #1.” However, the Australian regulator found X’s response to questions about preventing child grooming on the platform to be unsatisfactory, with X claiming that it was “not a service used by large numbers of young people.” The company also stated that available anti-grooming technology was not capable or accurate enough to be deployed on Twitter.

In addition to the fine imposed on X, the regulator issued a warning to Alphabet’s Google for noncompliance with its request for information regarding the handling of child abuse content. The commission criticized Google’s responses to some questions as “generic.” Google, on the other hand, stated that it had cooperated with the regulator and expressed disappointment with the warning.

The regulator emphasized that X’s noncompliance was more severe, including its failure to answer crucial questions about response times to reports of child abuse, measures taken to detect such content in livestreams, and the number of staff dedicated to content moderation, safety, and public policy. X confirmed to the regulator that it had reduced its global workforce by 80% and no longer had public policy staff in Australia, compared to two employees before Musk’s takeover. The company also admitted that its proactive detection of child abuse material in public posts had declined after going private. X cited the underdevelopment of technology as the reason for not using tools to detect such material in private messages.

While this fine is undoubtedly a setback for X, it is an opportunity for the company to reassess its content moderation practices and prioritize the safety of its users. With a renewed commitment to tackling illegal content and collaborating with regulators, X can regain the trust of advertisers and users alike. The company’s efforts to address these issues, alongside the ongoing collaboration with government and industry stakeholders, will contribute to a safer online environment for Australians.

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