An Australian regulator has fined Elon Musk’s social media platform X A$610,500 ($386,000) for failing to cooperate with a probe into anti-child abuse practices, a blow to a company that has struggled to keep advertisers amid complaints that it is soft on moderating content.
The e-Safety Commission fined X, (erstwhile Twitter), saying it failed to respond to questions including how long it took to respond to reports of child abuse material on the platform and the methods it used to detect it.
Though small compared to the $44 billion Musk paid for the website in October 2022, the fine is a reputational hit for a company seeing a continuous revenue decline as advertisers cut spending on it for stopping most content moderation and reinstating thousands of banned accounts.
Most recently the EU said it was investigating X for potential violation of its new tech rules after it was accused of failing to rein in disinformation in relation to Hamas’s attack on Israel.
“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,” Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said in an interview.
“The only reason I can see to fail to answer important questions about illegal content and conduct happening on platforms would be if you don’t have answers,” added Inman Grant, a public policy director for X until 2016.
Under Australian laws that took effect in 2021, the regulator can compel internet companies to give information about their online safety practices or face a fine. If X refuses to pay the fine, the regulator can pursue the company in court.
After taking the company private, Musk said in a post that “removing child exploitation is priority #1”. But the Australian regulator said when it asked X how it prevented child grooming on the platform, X responded that it was “not a service used by large numbers of young people”.
X told the regulator available anti-grooming technology was “not of sufficient capability or accuracy to be deployed on Twitter”.
The company confirmed to the regulator that it had cut 80% of its workforce globally and has no public policy staff in Australia, compared to two before Musk’s takeover.
X told the regulator its proactive detection of child abuse material in public posts dropped after Musk took the company private.
The company said it did not use tools to detect the material in private messages because “the technology is still in development”, the regulator said.