Musk’s X must hide stabbing videos

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Elon Musk has sparked backlash from Australian politicians. Picture: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize

Elon Musk’s X has been ordered to temporarily hide videos of a Sydney bishop, an Australian court has ruled.

The eSafety commissioner has won a two-day interim legal injunction to force X to hide any posts depicting graphic footage of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being attacked during a sermon.

X — formerly known as Twitter — and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, were ordered to take down the material last week.

While Meta complied, X said it would comply in the interim but would launch legal action.

It prompted the eSafety commissioner to go to the Federal Court, arguing X had failed to fully comply with the law because it was geoblocking the content rather than deleting it, meaning the content could not be viewed in Australia but could be seen elsewhere.

If a person in Australia uses a virtual private network, which hides their location, they can view the content.

Lawyers for the eSafety Commission argued geoblocking did not go far enough to comply with the Online Safety Act.

But lawyers for X sought a delay, saying they had not yet been able to seek instructions from their client.

Justice Geoffrey Kennett granted a temporary injunction for two days, meaning X must hide the posts until the matter returns to court on Wednesday when lawyers can argue against the injunction before a final decision is made.

Elon Musk says he will challenge the eSafety Commissioner’s ruling. Picture: Etienne Laurent / AFP
Elon Musk says he will challenge the eSafety Commissioner’s ruling. Picture: Etienne Laurent / AFP

Earlier on Monday, the Coalition decreed X owner Elon Musk had to “comply with Australian law” after the federal government flagged tougher laws to crack down on social media giants to force them to remove violent content and misinformation.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said X had become a “playground for criminals and cranks” and a “factory for trolls and bots and misinformation”, and vowed to “fight” the social media giant.

Meanwhile, the Coalition’s communications spokesman David Coleman said X had to play by the rules.

“We know we can’t rely on social media companies … We can’t trust them,” he said.

“This material (from the stabbings) is really disturbing content, and not only are adults seeing it, but kids are.

“That’s why the Online Safety Act is so important for the Commissioner to say that’s not acceptable.”

Calls to enforce tougher penalties on tech companies have grown after distressing images of the lifestreamed stabbing of an Assyrian bishop and a knife attack in Bondi Junction two days earlier have been widely accessed across social media sites.

The unrelated incidents have sparked debate about the spread of misinformation after false claims about each attacker’s motive and identity rapidly circulated online.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said companies had a “social responsibility” to remove the content if requested by the eSafety Commissioner.

“I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case,” he told reporters in Mackay.

“This isn’t about freedom of expression.

“This is about the dangerous implications that can occur when things that are simply 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.”

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Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones did not hold back when talking about the tech giants. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

On Sunday, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton left the door open to backing the misinformation laws he previously described as “Orwellian” if they struck the right balance.

Foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham reiterated his party would back moves 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,” he told the ABC.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young likened Mr Musk to a “cowboy” in the “wild west online”.

“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,” she told the ABC.

“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.”

The Prime Minister said Mr Musk’s decision was ‘extraordinary’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Jones earlier also had choice words for Meta, who is ending deals to pay Australian outlets for news content, as being more interested in taking journalists off the platform than criminals.

“None of these places are above the law. They’re not a sovereign state,” he told ABC Radio.

“They can’t be a lawless program, a playground for criminals and cranks. New laws need to be put in place, and this government is determined to do that.”

Mr Jones also slammed the tech giants for not doing enough to combat scams on their platforms, suggesting a mandatory code of conduct could be on its way.

“For parts of industry, not all of it, to say ‘don’t worry, just leave it to us and we’ll put in place voluntary codes’, give me a break,” he said.

“They’ve had forever to put in place mechanisms that would work and, as I’ve said, (they are) more determined to remove journalists from their platform than criminals.

“I think we know where the priorities lie, and it’s not in protecting the users of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and places like this.”