Australia’s eSafety commissioner says Twitter has “dropped the ball” on tackling online hate, labelling the site “a bin fire” as she issued a legal notice to the social media giant demanding an explanation about what it is doing about the scourge.
The commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said there have been more complaints about online hate on Twitter in the past year than any other platform, and complaints have spiked since Elon Musk’s takeover of the company in October.
“We are seeing a worrying surge in hate online,” Inman Grant said on Thursday. “Twitter appears to have dropped the ball on tackling hate.”
The rise in complaints coincides with a slashing of Twitter’s global workforce from 8,000 to 1,500, including in its trust and safety teams, coupled with ending its public policy presence in Australia.
A general amnesty was announced by Musk in November, which reportedly saw 62,000 banned or suspended users reinstated to the platform, including 75 accounts with more than 1 million followers.
The commissioner told the ABC the return of the “worst of the worst” accounts had resulted in an “outsized impact on toxicity” on Twitter.
“Twitter has always been fiery in terms of discourse, but it’s turned into an absolute bin fire,” she said.
Inman Grant said Twitter’s policies prohibited hateful conduct on the platform but rising complaints to eSafety and reports of the toxic content remaining on the platform showed that Twitter was probably not enforcing its own rules.
She said if Twitter wanted to continue serving Australia it would need to abide by Australian laws, and Inman Grant has been working with regulators across the world to get platforms to improve their standards.
Nearly one in five Australians had experienced some form of online hate, eSafety research showed.
“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,” Inman Grant said.
A third of all complaints about online hate reported are about Twitter.
“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.
Last month the US advocacy group Glaad designated Twitter as the most hateful platform towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Research by the UK-based Centre for Countering Digital Hate demonstrated that slurs against African Americans showed up on Twitter an average of 1,282 times a day before Musk took over the platform. Afterwards, they more than doubled to an average of 3,876 times a day.
The CCDH also found that those paying for a Twitter blue tick seemed to enjoy a level of impunity when it came to the enforcement of Twitter’s rules governing online hate, compared with non-paying users – and even had their tweets boosted by the platform’s algorithms.
The Anti-Defamation League also found that antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism soared more than 61%just two weeks after Musk bought the platform.
If Twitter fails to respond to the eSafety request within 28 days, the company could face maximum financial penalties of nearly $700,000 a day for continuing breaches.
Inman Grant issued similar notices to Twitter, Meta and other platforms in August last year and January this year asking the companies to explain over how they tackle online child abuse on their sites. Twitter did respond to that notice, but Inman Grant has yet to say whether the response was acceptable.
“eSafety is currently assessing the responses to those notices and expects to release appropriate information in due course,” a spokesperson said.