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Australia v Musk: X boss to take on Australia’s eSafety Commissioner

Elon Musk promises a looming court battle over takedown notices of Sydney church stabbing videos.

user icon David Hollingworth
Mon, 22 Apr 2024
Australia v Musk: X boss to take on Australia’s eSafety Commissioner
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What began with a takedown notice being issued to both X and Meta last week to remove videos of a violent church stabbing in Sydney looks set to become a battleground over censorship and free speech in the coming months.

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner called for the social media giants to take down “extreme and gratuitous violent material” relating to the stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Sydney on 15 April.

The takedown notices were issued on 16 April, with the eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, fronting reporters at a press conference shortly after.


“While the majority of mainstream social media platforms have engaged with us, I am not satisfied enough is being done to protect Australians from this most extreme and gratuitous violent material circulating online,” Inman Grant said.

“That is why I am exercising my powers under the Online Safety Act to formally compel them to remove it. I have issued a notice to X requiring them to remove this content. A legal notice will also be sent to Meta this afternoon, and further notices are likely to follow. I will not hesitate to use further graduated powers at my disposal if there is non-compliance.”

X, however, released a statement via its own platform on 20 April, vowing to fight the order.

“The recent attacks in Australia are a horrific assault on free society. Our condolences go out to those who have been affected, and we stand with the Australian people in calling for those responsible to be brought to justice,” X’s Global Government Affairs account said in a post on X.

“Following these events, the Australian eSafety Commissioner ordered X to remove certain posts in Australia that publicly commented on the recent attack against a Christian bishop. These posts did not violate X’s rules on violent speech.

“X believes that eSafety’s order was not within the scope of Australian law, and we complied with the directive pending a legal challenge.”

X admits that while the stabbing was a “tragic event”, it’s also one that should be expected to naturally spark a “public conversation” both within Australia and on the wider international stage – particularly X. And X does not believe Australian laws apply to it as a global platform.

“While X respects the right of a country to enforce its laws within its jurisdiction, the eSafety Commissioner does not have the authority to dictate what content X’s users can see globally. We will robustly challenge this unlawful and dangerous approach in court,” X said.

“Global takedown orders go against the very principles of a free and open internet and threaten free speech everywhere.”

X also said it had been issued with a further directive to remove the posts or face a daily $785,000 fine.

Elon Musk then reposted the Global Government Affairs post with his own added commentary.

“The Australian censorship commissar is demanding *global* content bans!” Musk said.

In a widely reported statement, the eSafety Commissioner has said it will continue to work with X on the matter.

“We expect platforms that benefit from Australians using their service to make genuine efforts to protect our citizens from harmful content,” the eSafety statement said.

“In relation to X Corp, eSafety is working to ensure the company’s full and complete compliance with Australian law.

“eSafety is disappointed that process has been unnecessarily prolonged, rather than prioritising the safety of Australians and the Australian community.”

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth has been writing about technology for over 20 years, and has worked for a range of print and online titles in his career. He is enjoying getting to grips with cyber security, especially when it lets him talk about Lego.

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