By Daniel Y. Teng
Australia’s eSafety commissioner has issued Elon Musk’s Twitter with a legal notice to explain what it is doing to tackle hate speech on its platform.
The commissioner says it has received “more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past 12 months” than any other platform and alleges an “increasing number” of reports of serious online abuse since Musk took over in October 2022.
If Twitter fails to respond to the notice in 28 days, the tech giant will face a maximum fine of $700,000 (US$476,000) per day for “continuing breaches.”
“We are seeing a worrying surge in hate online,” said Julie Inman Grant in a statement on June 22.
“eSafety research shows that nearly 1 in 5 Australians have experienced some form of online hate. This level of online abuse is already inexcusably high, but if you’re a First Nations Indigenous Australian, you are disabled or identify as LGBTIQ+, you experience online hate at double the rate of the rest of the population,” she said.
“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.”
Staff Cuts Blamed for ‘Hate Speech’ Growth
The commissioner also apportioned blame for the increase in “hate speech” on Musk’s decision to cut Twitter’s global workforce from 8,000 to 1,500 (including its “trust and safety teams”) and ending its public policy presence in Australia.
Musk has indicated that the staff cuts were necessary because the company was inefficient and overstaffed. Despite being publicly listed and widely used, Twitter is yet to turn a profit consistently.
“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,” Inman Grant said.
She pointed to the 62,000 accounts reinstated by Musk when he took over the company, including 75 accounts with over one million followers.
The eSafety commissioner claimed Twitter was not enforcing its own terms and policies around stopping hateful conduct on its platform.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Twitter for comment.
No Guaranteed Freedom of Speech in Australia
In response, Rob Nicholls, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, said there is no right to freedom of speech in Australia, and there is only an “implied right of political communication.”
This right is not legislated either but was extracted from common law by judges.
“As usual in an Australian environment, not doing what you say is more problematic from a regulatory perspective than problematic conduct,” he told The Epoch Times via email.
“It’s important to note that the eSafety commissioner’s comments were about Twitter promoting hate speech when it has a policy to prohibit hateful conduct on the platform.”
The latest move from Australian authorities comes as the European Union (EU) also finds ways to pressure Twitter over “disinformation.”
In May, Musk withdrew Twitter from the EU’s voluntary code of practice to control discussion around topics like election manipulation, cyber violence against women, and harmful content towards minors.
“Twitter leaves EU voluntary Code of Practice against disinformation,” said Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, on his Twitter account.
“But obligations remain. You can run, but you can’t hide. Beyond voluntary commitments, fighting disinformation will be legal obligation under [the Digital Services Act] as of August 25.
“Our teams will be ready for enforcement,” he wrote.
One Person’s Hate Speech Is Another’s Free Speech
While Twitter continues facing pressure from interest groups and authorities over an alleged proliferation of hate speech, many have praised Musk’s takeover for allowing public discussion about contentious issues like the COVID-19 lockdowns, climate change, and transgender issues.
“It felt almost incredible to hear major experts on important topics freely speaking their minds. I can recall thinking: how is it possible that this is allowed? I kept having to remind myself that this is how it is supposed to be,” wrote Jeffrey A. Tucker, founder of the Brownstone Institute, in The Epoch Times.
“The most salient and shocking fact of the last three years has been the manufactured consensus on the most radical and extreme attack on liberty and rights in our lives. It was particularly spooky because the entire machinery of oppression was blessed by the mainstream media, the corporate elite, the scientific establishment, plus government.”
At the same time, some research bodies have found a decline in hate speech on Twitter.
An assessment by Springklr, an “AI-based Toxicity Model,” measured hate speech differently from other researchers by evaluating “slurs in the nuanced context of their use.”
Sprinklr’s analysis found that hate speech received 67 percent fewer impressions per post than non-toxic slur posts on Twitter.