X/Twitter booted out of Australia's disinformation-fighting club
Ghosted authorities after complaint during hotly contested referendum
Australia's Digital Industry Group (DIGI), the industry association for organizations that invest in online safety, privacy, and cyber security, has decided to withdraw X's place in the voluntary code that oversees efforts to stop the spread of misinformation.
X earned the dubious distinction of having its signatory status to the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation (ACPDM) withdrawn after a complaint about its handling or lack thereof of reports of misinformation it carried during the lead-up on a referendum that offered Australians the chance to amend their constitution. The proposed change would have enabled the creation of a Voice to Parliament for Australia's indigenous people, and sparked vivid and prolonged debate.
Plenty of that debate played out on X/Twitter – often with the nuance-free tone for which the platform has become infamous.
One of the ACPDM's desired outcomes is for social media platforms to ensure "Users can easily report offending content." However, a complaint from Reset.Tech Australia – a research org that specializes in digital risks and online harms – alleged X failed to do so.
As the group explained in an open letter to X, "recent changes to your user-reporting systems may have left Australian users unable to report electoral misinformation weeks away from a referendum." Reset.Tech described the inability to report such material as "extremely concerning" given the referendum was near.
The ACPDM governance Complaints Sub-Committee investigated the complaint, and was able to arrange a meeting with an X executive to discuss it.
But less than two hours before a Zoom meeting scheduled to consider the complaint, X's representative "withdrew … citing ill health."
X did not provide any written submission ahead of the meeting, nor did it engage with the Sub-Committee or the complainant.
Elon Musk's social network was therefore found to have "committed a serious breach of the code and … refused to cooperate with DIGI or undertake any remedial action."
DIGI imposed the penalty of withdrawing X's ACPDM signatory status – a decision that leaves it outside a tent occupied by Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Redbubble and TikTok.
Banishment from the code won't hurt X materially, but is another example of the platform's difficulties balancing its aspiration to facilitate free speech and governments' desire to have private players stop the flow of misinformation and material that inspires hatred.
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X has previously pulled out of Europe's voluntary code for social media players, but since promised it will adhere to the bloc's Digital Services Act, which requires transparency of moderation practices and accountability for moderation decisions.
Not complying with the Act would make it hard for X to do business in the EU. X can ill afford to be banished from any jurisdiction willing to let it operate, given Elon Musk recently appeared to support an antisemitic argument, leading advertisers to stop buying ads on the platform.
X's troubles in Australia aren't restricted to its forced exit from the ACPDM. The former micro-blogging service was fined AU$610,500 ($385,000) for failing to comply with a requirement to report its capabilities to detect, remove and prevent child sexual abuse material appearing on the platform. X has reportedly failed to pay that fine, placing it at risk of daily fines of up to AU$780,000 ($510,000). ®