X sign atop the company headquarters in San Francisco
The platform X has been issued with a legal infringement notice by Australia's eSafety Commissioner. Image by AP PHOTO
  • crime, law and justice

X, formerly Twitter, fined and may face slavery charges

Kat Wong October 16, 2023

Social media platform X has been fined more than $600,000 and could face charges of modern slavery over compliance failures when tackling child sexual exploitation.

The platform formerly known as Twitter has been issued with a legal infringement notice by Australia’s eSafety commissioner and has 28 days to respond or pay the $610,500 penalty.

The NSW anti-slavery commissioner James Cockayne praised the regulator’s action while calling for a criminal investigation over possible modern slavery charges.

In NSW, the production and distribution of child abuse material – along with the knowing administration of a digital platform used to disseminate such content – are modern slavery offences.

“Governments have a duty to protect children from slavery and companies have a responsibility to respect children’s right to be free from slavery,” Dr Cockayne said.

Google has also been handed a formal warning for a lack of transparency, with both tech giants accused of failing to adequately respond to a number of questions.

Armed with new transparency powers, eSafety issued please explain notices to Twitter (subsequently rebranded as “X”), Google, TikTok, Twitch and Discord in February.

The regulator’s latest report highlights serious shortfalls in how some companies detect, remove and prevent child sexual abuse material and grooming.

It also examines inconsistencies in how companies deal with material across their different services and variations in the time it takes them to respond to public reports.

Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the non-compliance was disappointing, especially as the questions related to the protection of children and the most egregious forms of online harm.

“Twitter/X has stated publicly that tackling child sexual exploitation is the number one priority for the company, but it can’t just be empty talk, we need to see words backed up with tangible action,” she said.

“If Twitter/X and Google can’t come up with answers to key questions about how they are tackling child sexual exploitation they either don’t want to answer for how it might be perceived publicly or they need better systems to scrutinise their own operations.”

Google is alleged to have provided generic and aggregated responses to specific requests for information, while X failed to provide any response to some questions, leaving some sections blank.

Other times, it responded in a way that was incomplete and/or inaccurate. 

In a statement, Google Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy in Australia and New Zealand, Lucinda Longcroft, said the company had developed free technologies that would proactively detect, remove and report child sexual abuse material.

“Protecting children on our platforms is the most important work we do,” she said.

“We remain committed to these efforts and collaborating constructively and in good faith with the eSafety Commissioner, government and industry on the shared goal of keeping Australians safer online.” 

Ms Inman Grant said the proliferation of online child sexual exploitation was growing and tech companies had a moral responsibility to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse being stored, shared and perpetrated.

“We really can’t hope to have any accountability from the online industry in tackling this issue without meaningful transparency,” she said.

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