Australia's eSafety Commissioner initiates civil penalty proceedings against social media platform X
Days after the European Union (EU) initiated formal infringement proceedings against social media company X, Australia has followed suit.
In a statement on Thursday 21 December, Australia’s regulator for online safety, eSafety, announced it has commenced civil penalty proceedings against X in the Federal Court over its alleged failure to comply with a ‘transparency notice.’
If found non-compliant, X could be fined up to $780,000 per day, backdated to March 2023, when the determination of non-compliance was made.
X was one of five digital platforms to be issued with the transparency notice, in February 2023, which required them to detail steps they were taking to detect and address online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
While TikTok, Twitch and Discord complied, eSafety alleges that X and Google did not, but that “Twitter/X’s non-compliance was found to be more serious with the company failing to provide any response to some questions, leaving some sections entirely blank. In other instances, Twitter/X provided a response that was otherwise incomplete and/or inaccurate.“
X was issued with an infringement notice for $610,500 in September 2023 for its non-compliance, and was given 28 days to request the withdrawal of the infringement notice or pay the penalty.
X did not pay the fine, but rather sought a judicial review of the matter. eSafety responded by launching civil proceedings today, which it is requesting be carried out in tandem with the judicial review to expedite the process.
Julie Inman Grant, who heads up eSafety as the Commissioner, previously held the role of Public Safety Officer at Twitter, and is affiliated with the World Economic Forum (WEF) as an ‘agenda contributor.’
Inman Grant has been highly critical of Elon Musk and ‘new Twitter’ since Musk’s purchase of the platform, noting that X’s trust and safety teams had “seriously diminished” under Musk’s leadership, and accusing Musk of allowing “sewer rats” back onto the platform.
Discussing eSafety’s notices to X in a Senate Committee Hearing in May of this year, Inman Grant said “other than tweeting at me, [Musk] hasn’t formally responded,” but that eSafety intended to “let regulatory processes play out,” citing “a range of remedial actions at our disposal,” including fines and civil proceedings.
Inman Grant famously suggested a “recalibration” of human rights in online spaces, including freedom of speech, at a WEF meeting in 2022.
While eSafety has been able to target online speech as it relates to harm under the Online Safety Act (such as policing tweets on breastfeeding), it does not have the authority to regulate platforms over alleged mis- and disinformation.
Australia’s other digital regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is poised to target platforms for mis- and disinformation if a misinformation bill that is currently under review gets passed next year.
The remedial action from eSafety comes just days after the EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services announced formal infringement proceedings against X for reasons of suspected illegal content, disinformation, breach of transparency and deceptive design under the Digital Services Act, which allows for broader regulatory scope than Australia’s laws currently allow.
Journalist Michael Shellenberger, who co-discovered a censorship industrial complex at work in a web of collaborations between the US Government, think tanks, and social media platforms, described the move as part of a “sweeping crackdown on free speech” in the EU, with X as “its main target.”
“…It looks as though the EU and X are headed toward a head-on collision, with the EU demanding secret censorship by committees of “experts” to decide what is true and not true.
“Whether or not X complies with EU demands, the EU appears to be headed for mass secret censorship of its citizens. X may be forced to decide whether to comply or leave Europe.”
Faced with fines of up to $780,000 per day, it looks like X owner Elon Musk has a similar decision to make over the future of the platform in Australia.
“Meanwhile, advertisers and the corporate news media are waging the mother of all economic wars on Musk’s X, demanding that it engage in more secret censorship and “cooperate” with “researchers” who want X’s data, so that they can tell the company not just who but also which whole narratives to censor, just as they already do at Facebook, Threads, Instagram, and Google.”
Musk had a strong message to advertisers using bully tactics against X, telling them from a stage at the DealBook conference last month, “Go f*ck yourself. Is that clear?”
He went on to say that in reality, bullying by advertisers may kill the company. But people will see what’s happening and will judge accordingly. “Let’s see how Earth responds to that.”
It seems Musk is playing chicken with advertisers and regulators. However this plays out, Earth will be on the edge of its seat.
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