Executives from X, formerly Twitter, appeared before the Australian Parliament on late Wednesday and defended their decision to restore an X Account after the account shared photos of child sexual abuse late in July. Elon Musk, the owner of X, personally intervened in the incident to restore the account following a violation which would have normally led to a permanent suspension from social media.
Nick Pickles was the global head of government affairs for X. An Australian senator asked him about it late on Wednesday, local Australian time (early Thursday morning) after he had suggested that there was a policy against 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 materialHe shared. According to reports, the abuse material showed a child being tortured. 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.
Pickles disagreed that Musk’s decision to restore the account was motivated by purely financial reasons.
Pickles, who was first quoted by The Guardian in the Australian hearings, insisted that X had made tackling the child abuse materials a priority ever since Musk purchased the company in Oct 2022. Musk’s mass layoffs actually gutted the Child Safety Team, according to multiple reports.
Helen Polley, an Australian Senator, cited research showing that the amount of child sexual abuse materials has increased since Musk 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.
Google testified about how it has combatted abusive content.
The management of X is a controversial issue in Australia, ever since Musk acquired the platform late in 2022. Australian parliament hearings, in general, are harsher towards U.S. tech executives. But senators were especially shocked at Pickles’ answers 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 failed to respond immediately Wednesday night when asked for a statement. I’ll update this article if I hear back.
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