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Australia v Musk: War of words erupts between politicians and Musk over eSafety ruling

Aussie politicians voice their ire over X’s stance on the church stabbing video, while Elon Musk targets Prime Minister Anthony Albanese over alleged censorship.

user icon David Hollingworth
Tue, 23 Apr 2024
Australia v Musk: War of words erupts between politicians and Musk over eSafety ruling
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If you had “Aussie pollies argue with a man who launched a car into orbit” on your 2024 bingo card, this is most definitely your lucky week.

The current fight has been brewing since the Australian eSafety Commissioner issued a takedown to X and other social media companies regarding footage of a knife attack at a Sydney church.

The event was being live-streamed, so plenty of video of the incident has been circulating, and while the eSafety Commissioner thinks this is worth going to court over – a Federal Court has already backed the commissioner, ordering X to remove posts with the footage entirely rather than simply geoblock them for Australian users – Musk’s company has not only vowed to fight the injunction, but Musk is now taking aim at the Australian Prime Minister.


Posting an image depicting X as a bastion of free speech and truth, and every other major social media platform – which all complied with eSafety’s directive – as representing censorship and propaganda, Musk said: “Don’t take my word for it, just ask the Australian PM.”

Musk also reshared another X user’s post that claimed ironically that a statement from Albanese commenting on how other platforms complied with the notice was effectively as basically advertising for Elon.

“I’d like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one,” Musk said.

Impressively, X’s and Musk’s actions have united Australian politicians of all stripes against the billionaire social media addict.

“We’ll do what’s necessary to take on this arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency,” Albanese told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday morning (23 April).

“What the eSafety Commissioner is doing is doing her job to protect the interests of Australians, and the idea that someone would go to court for the right to put up violent content on a platform shows how out-of-touch Mr Musk is. Social media needs to have social responsibility with it. Mr Musk is not showing any.”

Independent Senator David Pocock also stepped into the ring, this time on the ABC’s Radio National, however, with a more hopeful tone.

“We are the product when we use things like Facebook, Instagram … and I’m really concerned about the effect that that’s having on all of us,” Pocock said.

“And these multinational companies have proven time and time again that they’re willing to bully governments and countries, like Australia, and not uphold their part of the bargain of being able to run their businesses here in Australia. So I hope that this extends beyond just this latest move from Elon Musk to a broader conversation around … how do you regulate things like social media?”

Fellow independent Jacqui Lambie, who along with Pocock is pushing for changes to property tax, also joined in but in a more pugnacious manner.

“Elon Musk has no social conscience, or conscience whatsoever,” Lambie said on the same show, before calling Musk’s behaviour “absolutely disgusting”.

“And quite frankly, the bloke should be jailed, and the sooner that we can bring rules in or do something about this sort of game-playing with our social media, the better off we’re going to be.

“But quite frankly, the power that that man has because of that platform that he’s on, it’s got to stop. It has absolutely got to stop. But leaving that out for our kids to see, for people that were family and friends out there and just letting that run on there, once again, that bloke has no conscience. He’s an absolute friggin disgrace, and there’s nothing else to say about Elon Musk.”

When asked while at a press conference in Queensland on Monday about reworking Australia’s misinformation laws, Albanese talked about the pain caused by seeing such violent footage broadcast for all to see.

“But it’s also the pain of many people has been exacerbated by what occurred on social media – the broadcasting of violent images that have no place. Social media has a social responsibility, and in addition to that, of course, we know some of the misinformation, including naming some innocent bloke as the perpetrator, is just extraordinary that that occurred and that that was replicated,” Albanese said.

“We need to recognise that, and social media has a responsibility. By and large, people responded appropriately to the calls by the eSafety Commissioner. X chose not to. They stand, I think, I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case. We know, I think overwhelmingly, Australians want misinformation and disinformation to stop. This isn’t about freedom of expression; this is about the dangerous implications that can occur when things that are simply not true, that everyone knows is not true, are replicated and weaponised in order to cause division and, in this case, to promote negative statements and potentially to just inflame what was a very difficult situation. And social media has a social responsibility.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has even said he would reconsider backing Labor’s proposed misinformation laws, while his Liberal colleague Simon Birmingham said the party would back any effort to “put in place the types of powers or penalties that make social media companies pay attention”.

“The idea that it is ‘censorship’ to say that imagery of a terrorist attack, of a stabbing incident, should not be able to be broadcast in an unfiltered way for all to see, children to access and otherwise, is an insulting and offensive argument,” Birmingham told the ABC.

Also speaking to the ABC, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young compared Musk to a cowboy, with X as his own personal Wild West.

“The problem we have is that for far too long, these big tech giants have gotten away with little to no regulation ... no wonder they think they can give a middle finger to the government,” Hanson-Young said.

“It is the Wild West online, and it’s just not on … no wonder that cowboys like Elon Musk think that they can keep on making money and profiting off outrage and hatred.”

Speaking to the accusations of censorship, Dr Dana McKay – associate dean of interaction, technology and information in the School of Computing Technologies at RMIT University – said that not all censorship is equal.

“Not all censorship is bad when it is applied to situations like graphic and illegal content. There are a range of things that we, as a society, agree shouldn’t be posted online,” Dr McKay said via email.

“Technology has been designed by a very small, non-diverse group of people but is used by everyone. This often has negative consequences for the people who didn’t design it.

“These platforms promote content that gets more engagement – be it reactions, views or shares – and this increases the risk that users could see certain types of content without wanting to.”

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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