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April, 2024

eSafety Commissioner wins temporary injunction against X in court over violent stabbing pics

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has won a temporary injunction against Elon Musk’s X (Twitter) platform in the Federal Court to have footage of the violent stabbing in a Sydney church taken down from the social media site. The commissioner filed legal proceedings against X in the courts on 22 April after X and its owner, Elon Musk, refused to take down video posts showing the violent stabbing attack on 16 April.

The decision to go to court comes after the Commissioner issued legal notices to Google, Meta, Twitter/X, WhatsApp, telegram and reddit requiring all to report on steps they’re taking to protect Australians from terrorist and violent extremist material and activity. These notices are possible under transparency powers granted under the Online Safety Act, and requested all six companies to answer questions about how they’re tackling the issue.

“We remain concerned about how extremists weaponise technology for live streaming, algorithms and recommender systems and other features to promote or share this hugely harmful material,” the commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said in a statement.

Yet Elon Musk’s response to the legal action was to mock the Australian Government. In a cartoon posted to his personal account, the billionaire suggested the move was an attempt at censorship and illustrated two pathways – one labelling X a platform of free speech and truth, the other labelling his competitors as “censored propaganda” platforms.

“I’d like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public this platform is the only truthful one,” Musk stated in a post. “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” Musk stated in another.

On Monday evening, the eSafety Commissioner was granted a two-day injunction by the Federal Court to have the violent video materials on X covered by the eSafety Commissioner’s case hidden worldwide while matters are considered. Yet during the case, several parties admitted the injunction would have a limited impact.

Musk’s comments and X’s actions have been heavily criticised by Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, who has subsequently labelled Musk “an arrogant billionaire” without “decency”.

“We’ll do what’s necessary to take on this arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency,” the PM stated. “The idea 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.”

Federal Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, also slammed Musk’s actions – on TV then by reposting the clip on X (Twitter). The MP noted the Government has quadrupled budget for the eSafety Commissioner’s office. It also tried to introduce the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation voluntary bill last year which failed after being rejected by the Coalition. Pilbersek said verbal support from several members of the Opposition were encouraging signs the discussion on misinformation wasn’t over. 

“It just beggars belief that this guy, this egotistical billionaire, thinks it’s more important for him to show whatever he wants on X… than to respect the victims of the crimes being shown on social media. And to protect our Australian community from the harmful impact of showing this terrible stuff on social media,” she said.

A statement from X released on Saturday said it believed the commissioner’s order to have the posts removed “was not within the scope of Australian law”. “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,” the statement read. “Global takedown orders go against the very principles of a free and open internet and threaten free speech everywhere.”

The X statement also acknowledged the eSafety Commissioner has already threatened X with files of $785,000 for each day the video posts remain online.

The temporary injunction from Justine Kennett orders X to hide the material identified in the notice behind a notice to X users and to ensure they cannot reveal the material. The order holds until 5pm Wednesday 24 April.

* With additional reporting from Nadia Cameron.