Elon Musk’s X social media platform has made significant changes, including a reduction of 80% in safety engineers and the reinstatement of thousands of previously banned accounts in Australia. Among those accounts, nearly 200 had been barred for hateful conduct. The country’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, characterized these actions as a “perfect storm” for online abuse. These details, disclosed to the Australian internet safety office, represent the first specific information about X Corp’s online safety processes since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter in October 2022.
X Corp, as the company is now known, informed the commissioner that it had globally decreased its trust and safety staff by a third and did not subject reinstated accounts to additional scrutiny. Inman Grant expressed concern about the implications of reducing defenses, bringing back users with a history of abuse, and not implementing mitigating factors to address harm. The disclosure comes in response to a legal notice issued by the eSafety office in June under the Online Safety Act, prompting X to explain its approach to tackling online hate on its platform.
Following Musk’s purchase of Twitter, significant staff layoffs raised concerns about content moderation. In its responses to the eSafety office, X revealed a decrease in the number of engineers focused on trust and safety, from 279 in October 2022 to 55 in May 2023. The global trust and safety staff fell from 4,062 to 2,849 during the same period, a 30% decline. The Australia Pacific region experienced a 45% drop in trust and safety staff. Global content moderators, including both full-time and contractor staff, decreased from 2,720 in October 2022 to 2,356 in May 2023.
X’s data indicated an increase in median waiting times for responding to user reports of hateful conduct since October 2022. The eSafety office expressed concerns about Twitter’s approach to user reports and highlighted that the vast majority were not considered to breach terms and policies.
After Musk’s acquisition, X reinstated a significant number of previously banned accounts, including 6,103 accounts and 194 suspended for hateful conduct violations. The eSafety office noted that X did not provide specific details about these reinstatements but believed the numbers were related to Australian accounts. Inman Grant emphasized the importance of investing in policy and moderation staff, likening them to “traffic enforcement and accident response” officers on roads. She emphasized that platforms should increase investment for better public safety and brand safety.
The eSafety commissioner has been in ongoing disputes with X over online safety rules, resulting in a $610,500 fine under the Online Safety Act for ignoring questions about cracking down on child sexual abuse material. In November, X was removed from Australia’s voluntary misinformation and disinformation code for failing to respond to a complaint regarding the closure of channels for reporting misinformation during the voice to parliament referendum.