An Australian regulatory authority has imposed a fine of A$610,500 (equivalent to $386,000) on Elon Musk’s social media platform X for its failure to cooperate with an investigation into its efforts to combat child abuse. This represents a setback for the company, which has faced challenges in retaining advertisers due to allegations that it has been lax in moderating content.
The e-Safety Commission issued the fine to X, the platform previously known as Twitter, citing its non-compliance with inquiries regarding its response times to reports of child abuse material on the platform and the techniques it employs for detection.
While relatively modest when compared to the $44 billion Elon Musk paid to acquire the website in October 2022, the fine represents a blow to the company’s reputation. The company has experienced an ongoing decline in revenue as advertisers reduced their spending due to its reduced content moderation efforts and the reinstatement of numerous previously banned accounts.
Additionally, the European Union (EU) has initiated an investigation into X for potential violations of its new tech regulations, following accusations that the platform failed to control the spread of disinformation related to Hamas’s attack on Israel.
Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, in an interview, mentioned, “If you have solutions to address questions, if you are genuinely implementing people, procedures, and technology to combat illegal content on a broad scale and worldwide, and if it’s your declared priority, it should be straightforward.”
She further noted, “The only explanation I can think of for avoiding significant inquiries regarding illegal content and activities occurring on platforms is if you lack the necessary responses.” Julie Inman Grant had previously served as a public policy director for X until 2016.
Following Musk’s acquisition, X closed its Australian office, which led to a lack of local representation to respond to Reuters. A request for comment sent to the company’s media email address in San Francisco went unanswered.
Under Australian legislation implemented in 2021, the regulatory authority can compel internet companies to provide information regarding their online safety practices or face fines. If X declines to pay the fine, the regulator can take legal action against the company, according to Grant.
After taking X private, Musk stated in a post that “eliminating child exploitation is priority #1.” However, the Australian regulator noted that when they inquired about X’s measures to prevent child grooming on the platform, X’s response was that it was “not a service used by a large number of young people.” X informed the regulator that the available anti-grooming technology was “insufficient in capability and accuracy for deployment on Twitter.”
Inman Grant also mentioned that the commission issued a warning to Google, an Alphabet subsidiary, for not fully complying with their request for information concerning the handling of child abuse content. The regulator found some of Google’s responses to be “generic.” Google expressed disappointment at the warning and emphasized its commitment to cooperation with the regulator and other stakeholders to enhance online safety in Australia.
The regulator regarded X’s noncompliance as more severe, encompassing its failure to answer inquiries regarding response times to reports of child abuse, methods for detecting child abuse during 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 had no public policy staff in Australia, down from two prior to Musk’s takeover. Additionally, X informed the regulator that its proactive detection of child abuse material in public posts had declined after Musk’s privatization of the company.
The company also disclosed to the regulator that it did not employ tools to detect such material in private messages, citing the ongoing development of the necessary technology.
(Conversion rate: $1 = 1.5833 Australian dollars)
[Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Kim Coghill and William Mallard]