Australia threatens Twitter with huge fines over hate speech
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Australia threatens Twitter with huge fines over hate speech

Twitter could be hit with huge fines in Australia after the antipodean nation’s cyber watchdog asked the social media company to explain what it’s doing to prevent online hate.

The eSafety commissioner said on Thursday that it has received more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past 12 months than any other platform, and has received an increasing number of reports of serious online abuse since Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company in October.

The watchdog has asked Twitter to respond within 28 days or face maximum financial penalties of 700,000 Australian dollars (about $475,000) per day.

eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said Twitter’s terms of use and policies prohibit hateful conduct on the platform, but added that the increase in complaints suggests Twitter is falling short when it comes to implementing its own rules.

The Australian watchdog noted that the complaints have come following Musk’s decision last November to reinstate tens of thousands of previously banned or suspended accounts, including 75 with more than 1 million followers.

“We are seeing a worrying surge in hate online,” Inman Grant said. “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 Australian, you are disabled, or identify as LGBTIQ+ you experience online hate at double the rate of the rest of the population.”

The commissioner added: “Twitter appears to have dropped the ball on tackling hate.”

Inman Grant suggested the platform’s Australian team was also impacted by Musk’s dismissal of its public policy unit, which liaised with the watchdog to prioritize abuse reports and also had a direct line to the U.S.-based head office that enabled it to explain sensitive local issues, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Twitter has yet to respond publicly to the watchdog’s statement. Press inquiries sent by email to the social media company continue to be met with a reply containing only a single poop emoji — a new approach to Twitter’s media relations brought in by Musk.

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