An Australian regulator has fined Elon Musk’s social media platform X $386,500 for failing to cooperate with a probe into anti-child abuse practices. It’s a blow to a company that has struggled to keep advertisers amid complaints it is going soft on moderating content.
The e-Safety Commission said X had failed to respond to questions including how long it took to respond to reports of child abuse material on its platform and what steps it takes to detect and remove such content. It also had not responded to how it prevented child grooming and had only provided limited detail on its efforts to protect children from online abuse. “If you’re saying removing illegal child exploitation is your priority and that you have people, processes, and technology in place to do so, it should be relatively easy to answer important questions about how you’re tackling this problem,” said Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.
The fine is a small sum compared to what X paid for the website, but it is a further setback for a company that has faced a sharp drop in revenue as advertising spending has dried up due to concerns about how it moderates content. It is also under investigation by the European Union for potentially violating new tech rules aimed at dismantling misinformation ahead of a weekend referendum in Australia to give indigenous people more rights.
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X, previously known as Twitter, rebranded this year to X. It has yet to comment on the fine. The company shut down its Australian office after its buyout by Musk and no longer has a local representative to respond to media inquiries. A request for comment sent to its San Francisco-based media email address remained unanswered at the time of publication.
Inman Grant’s decision comes after a year of investigating X’s handling of child exploitation and other issues. Despite Musk’s public statements that “removing child exploitation is priority #1” after taking Twitter private, the regulator found that the company was not doing enough to remove it and that available anti-grooming technology was unsuitable for Twitter.
X has been given until January to answer the regulator’s questions or face a further penalty, which could include a ban on advertising. The commission can compel internet companies to disclose information about their online safety practices under laws introduced in 2021. It also has the power to take legal action against companies that refuse to comply with a disclosure request. Alphabet’s Google was also recently issued a warning by the e-Safety Commission for noncompliance after it was found to have provided generic responses to questions about its handling of child abuse material. The search engine giant has since vowed to improve its cooperation with the commission.