Executives at X, the company formerly known as Twitter, testified in front of an Australian Parliament hearing late Wednesday, and defended the restoration of an X account after it shared child sexual abuse material in late July. The incident attracted widespread attention because X owner Elon Musk personally intervened to reinstate the account after a violation that would normally result in a permanent ban from the social media platform.
Nick Pickles, the head of global government affairs at X, was asked about the incident by an Australian senator late Wednesday ET, early Thursday Australian local time, after he suggested there was a zero tolerance policy for child sex abuse material. Pickles said the offending account in question may have been sharing the content “out of outrage.”
“One of the challenges we see is, for example, people sharing this content out of outrage because they want to raise awareness of an issue and see something in the media,” Pickles testified, according to an audio livestream.
“So if there are circumstances where someone shares content but, under review, we decide the appropriate remediation is to remove the content but not the user,” Pickles continued.
There’s nothing in the X terms of service that says it’s okay to share child sexual abuse material if a user is doing it because they’re outraged over the images or looking to “raise awareness.” It’s generally understood that sharing child sex abuse materials, regardless of intent, is not only a federal crime in the U.S. and Australia, but re-victimizes the child.
The offending account is operated by a right-wing influencer who has previously insisted he was just sharing a news article, a claim that’s been disputed by journalists on X who point out the influencer watermarked the material he shared. The abuse material was reportedly one of the worst images ever created, showing a toddler being tortured, according to the Washington Post.
“When it was pointed out that this account, which had more than half a million followers, had tweeted an image containing child sexual abuse material—some of the most notorious and appalling child sexual abuse material—your boss, tweeted that the account had been suspended, the material had been deleted, but then after pressure from his followers, your boss Elon Musk, reinstated the account,” Australian senator David Shoebridge said during the hearing.
Shoebridge suggested there was a purely financial motivation for Musk to reinstate the account, a characterization that Pickles disagreed with.
The Australian government hearing, first reported by the Guardian, grew heated after Pickles insisted X has made tackling child abuse material a priority since Musk bought the company in October 2022. Musk’s mass layoffs actually gutted the Child Safety Team, according to multiple reports.
Australian senator Helen Polley pointed to research that child sexual abuse material had gone up since Musk had bought the company. Polley questioned why child sexual abuse material wouldn’t result in an immediate ban on X since it was a crime, regardless of intent.
“There is no excuse, whether you’re posting something through outrage, which to me just is not logical, that your account should not be permanently suspended,” Polley said.
The Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement heard testimony from other sources on enforcement capabilities in relation to child exploitation late Wednesday, including from Google, which testified on the ways the company has been fighting abusive material.
Management of X has been a hot-button issue in Australia since Musk bought the platform in late 2022. And Australian parliamentary hearings tend to be more harsh on U.S.-based technology executives as a rule, but senators were particularly aghast at the answers they were getting from Pickles on Wednesday. Pickles repeatedly said that X’s general policy is permanent suspension for sharing child sex abuse material, but in some instances it can take repeated violations, a contradiction senators pointed out.
“You can see why we don’t have a lot of faith and trust in what you’re saying here today,” Senator Polley told Pickles.
X did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night. I’ll update this article if I hear back.
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