Musk’s X cuts creating ‘perfect storm’ for online hate, eSafety commissioner warns

Social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has more than halved the number of moderators it employs since being acquired by billionaire Elon Musk in 2022, a new transparency report from Australia’s online safety watchdog has revealed.

Information provided to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner by X Corp., the owner of X showed the extent of cuts made to its safety and public policy teams, including a 45 per cent cut to its trust and safety staff in Asia Pacific, and a complete removal of its public policy team in Australia.

Globally, X has reduced its Trust and Safety staff by 30 per cent since October 2022, with an 80 per cent reduction in trust and safety-focused engineers in the same period, staff who are crucial to building and maintaining the platform’s safety infrastructure.

Elon Musk has refused to pay a $610,500 fine from the eSafety Commissioner for allegedly failing to adequately tackle child exploitation material on X.
Elon Musk has refused to pay a $610,500 fine from the eSafety Commissioner for allegedly failing to adequately tackle child exploitation material on X.Credit: Bloomberg

Public policy staff have reduced by 78 per cent globally, while the total number of moderators employed globally by X was slashed by 52 per cent from 107 to 51.

This is the first time X Corp. has provided official figures detailing the scale of its staffing reductions since Musk acquired the platform, including specifics on where the cuts were made.

eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the significant headcount reduction in safety and public policy teams locally, alongside the widespread reinstatement of thousands of previously banned accounts, have created a more toxic and unsafe environment for X’s users.

“You’re creating a perfect storm”, she said. “A number of reinstated users were previously banned for online hate. If you let the worst offenders back on, while at the same time significantly reducing trust and safety personnel whose job it is to protect users from harm, there are clear concerns about the impacts on user safety.”

In Australia, 6100 previously banned accounts have been reinstated since October 2022, according to data provided to eSafety by X Corp. This compares to 62,000 globally.

Julie Inman Grant says X has become an increasingly toxic environment, with Indigeneous people under threat.
Julie Inman Grant says X has become an increasingly toxic environment, with Indigeneous people under threat.Credit: Rhett Wyman
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The cuts have directly led to a 20 per cent slowing of the median response time to user reports on posts, and a 75 per cent slowing in the median time taken to respond to reported direct messages, according to eSafety.

With First Nations youth three times more likely to experience online hate speech than non-Indigenous Australians on the platform, Inman Grant said the significant cut to local staff limits any potential for engagement with disproportionately impacted local communities.

“Understanding nuance and the unique cultural context of Australian communities is important to ensure platforms can tackle the online harms that can manifest and damage local communities,” she said.

X Corp. told the eSafety it had not formally engaged with any First Nations organisations between the time it ceased having public policy and safety staff and March 2023, when a request for information was made.

In December, the eSafety Commissioner launched legal action against X alleging a failure to comply with a legal notice requesting X to provide information on how it was tackling online abuse relating to children under the Online Safety Act.

The US investment firm now believes the platform is worth 71.5 per cent less than at the time of purchase.

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Source: Thanks smh.com