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Australia asks Twitter how it will mod content without staff, gets ghosted

Now the minister responsible has threatened regulation

Australia’s communications minister Michelle Rowland has revealed that Twitter's Australian outpost has not responded to months-old correspondence about the slimmed-down social network's ability to meet its requirements under the nation's Online Safety Act.

Twitter has made multiple rounds of redundancies since being acquired by rocketry, transport, tunnelling, and tequila magnate Elon Musk. Among the departures were the bird's head of trust and safety and others who worked on the same issues, as Musk pursued his agenda of maximalist free speech on the micro-blogging platform.

As is his right, of course. But in Australia, the Online Safety Act requires Twitter to take proactive action to protect locals from abusive conduct and harmful content – including with clear complaint-handling mechanisms.

If minister Rowland's letters aren’t being returned, individual Australians' chances of having their grievances considered are likely slim.

The minister yesterday signalled her displeasure at Twitter's failure to respond.

"I could not be clearer that we do not rule out the potential for further regulation within this area, or at least enforcement of the existing regulatory regime in the event that they are failing to live up to the expectations of industry," she lamented during a media conference staged to announce increased funding for e-safety initiatives.

Those funds are needed, in part, because Twitter is moderating less content.

That has led, in the words of Australia's e-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, to the proliferation of "sewer rats" on the platform.

"Anything goes these days on Twitter," she said. "They're weaponizing. What do you expect? I've said this before, but you know, you let sewer rats, and you let all these people who have been suspended back on the platform while you get rid of the Trust and Safety people and processes."

"To be treated with that kind of disrespect, and think you're going to get a better, more engaging product that protects the brand, is pretty crazy. And of course brands are walking … and people aren't signing up for Twitter Blue. Nobody really wants to be on a platform that feels toxic or feels unsafe."

Musk clearly thinks otherwise. He's claimed advertisers are coming back, and that the massive layoffs he implemented have been good for Twitter's bottom line and the quality of conversation on the platform.

But the minister's words underline the fact that Twitter is not above the law – anywhere. If Australia happens to be first to take action against it, other jurisdictions will surely take notice – as they did when Australia made Facebook and Google pay for the right to link to news content, and several other countries moved to do likewise.

Also at the event, minister Rowland was asked about Australia's plans to prevent minors accessing sexually explicit material online. Her response included a mention of further work on "digital identifiers" issued by Australia's government. It's unclear exactly what that entails – although Australia recently allocated additional funds to developing a national digital identity system. ®

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