‘Censorship commissioner’: Musk blasts government’s Sydney church stabbing order

Nathan SchmidtNCA NewsWire
Elon Musk has blasted the online watchdog over an order to remove content from X related to the Sydney church stabbing.
Camera IconElon Musk has blasted the online watchdog over an order to remove content from X related to the Sydney church stabbing. Credit: NCA NewsWire

Elon Musk and his social media company X have vowed to fight orders by Australia’s online watchdog to remove content related to alleged Sydney church stabbing attack.

On Tuesday, eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said social media giants X, formerly Twitter, and Facebook parent company Meta would be issued a notice of removal.

The notice relates to content depicting “gratuitous or offensive violence with a high degree of impact or detail” following the alleged stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel.

In a tweet early Saturday local time, Elon Musk, who purchased Twitter in April 2022, claimed “The Australian censorship commissar is demanding *global* content bans”.

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Faced with fines it failed to comply with the order, X’s global government affair’s team claimed posts it had been ordered to remove did not violate its rules on violent speech.

In a statement, which was shared by Musk, the social media giant said “recent attacks in Australia are a horrific assault on free society” but vowed to fight the removal notice.

“The Australian eSafety Commissioner ordered X to remove certain posts in Australia that publicly commented on the recent attack against a Christian Bishop,” X said.

“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 has now received a demand from the eSafety Commissioner that X globally withhold these posts or face a daily fine of $785,000.”

The company described the alleged stabbing of the Assyrian church leader as “a tragic event” and said it did “not allow people to praise it or call for further violence”.

“There is a public conversation happening about the event, on X and across Australia, as is often the case when events of major public concern occur,” X said.

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

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

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was allegedly stabbed at a Sydney church.
Camera IconBishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was allegedly stabbed at a Sydney church. Credit: Supplied

Video of the alleged stabbing, which was live-streamed, has become a sore spot for police and political leaders attempting to quell fears of further intra-communal violence.

Addressing the media on Friday, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb blasted “misinformation” following the alleged attack and called on social media sites to do more.

“I think leading a social media platform should bring with it big social, corporate responsibility,” she said.

“I think to have images like that online, they need to be removed immediately and not left up there.”

In a statement seen by the Guardian, the eSafety Commission said it was continuing to engaged platforms “regarding the resharing and reposting of (violent content)”.

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

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

Camera IconAustralia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

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

The commission said it expected platforms to abide by their own terms of service and said it was “considering whether further regulatory action is warranted” in relation to X.

Ms Inman Grant told reporters on Tuesday the while the majority of mainstream social media platforms had engaged with the commissioner, more needed to be done.

“I am not satisfied enough is being done to protect Australians from this most extreme and gratuitous violent material circulating online,” she said.

“That is why I am exercising my powers under the Online Safety Act to formally compel them to remove it.”

Elon Musk purchased Twitter in April 2022 largely off the back of claims freedom of speech had been impinged upon on the platform.

The billionaire has routinely clashed with governments over alleged censorship attempts, including a recent spat with a Brazilian Supreme Court judge over banned accounts.

Originally published as ‘Censorship commissioner’: Musk blasts government’s Sydney church stabbing order

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