Twitter spars with Australian lawmakers over abusive posts


Social media platforms from Twitter to Facebook are under growing pressure from lawmakers across the world to explain their roles in amplifying extremism, polarisation and hate speech. — Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Twitter Inc executives sparred with a panel of Australian lawmakers investigating harmful material online and the social media platform’s measures to stem abuse.

In a virtual hearing Friday, Lucy Wicks, chair of the Australian parliament’s Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety, read out some of the abuse directed by Twitter users toward a prominent local female journalist. Wicks, a Liberal Party lawmaker, questioned how Twitter policed offensive material when so much of it remained on the platform.

“I don’t understand why Twitter’s hateful conduct policy does not apply to a degrading, dehumanising, demeaning phrase directed at any woman, at any individual,” Wicks said.

Social media platforms from Twitter to Facebook are under growing pressure from lawmakers across the world to explain their roles in amplifying extremism, polarisation and hate speech. The Australian parliamentary committee is due to report by Feb 15.

Kara Hinesley, Twitter’s director of public policy for Australia and New Zealand, said online safety was a top priority and there were rules to address violence, abuse and harassment. She said attacks on female politicians and journalists were rising, but Twitter took into account the context of material when assessing whether it was harmful.

“We do allow for certain inflammatory or strident language,” Hinesley said. “Context does matter.” Enforcement steps, including removing users from Twitter, can be taken if posts become abusive, she said.

Wicks said Twitter’s policy barring attacks based on gender doesn’t appear to align with the experience of females in Australia. She questioned whether there should be more severe consequences for those who abuse others.

High-profile users and leaders may themselves use language that creates an environment of “permissibility for abuse”, Kathleen Reen, Twitter’s senior director of public policy for the Asia-Pacific region, told the hearing.

“The coarsening of the political debate, of public debate, the polarisation between groups, is something that we’re also studying,” she said. “It remains a live effort. We regret that abuse can and does happen.” – Bloomberg

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