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Politics

Elon Musk 1, eSafety Commissioner 0, in legal battle over priest stabbing video removal on X

- May 14, 2024 2 MIN READ
A screenshot of Bishop Emmanuel's alleged attacker approaching him during his church service
Elon Musk has won the latest round in his Federal Court fight with Australia’s eSafety Commissioner over demands that his social media company X (aka Twitter) remove footage of a bishop being stabbed in Sydney last month.

The decision by Justice Geoffrey Kennett limits the powers of  Commissioner Julie Inman Grant and the country’s Online Safety Act to Australian shores after eSafety sought to have the footage removed globally, rather than just having it geo-blocked in Australia.

The online safety regulator had previously won an interim injunction to have X Corp remove the posts, seeking a renewal of that ruling in a Federal Court hearing on Friday.

Justice Kennett handed down his decision on Monday morning, as the injunction was due to expire, refusing to extend it. X Corp had ignored it anyway.

“In the this matter which I heard on Friday, the orders of the court will be that the application to extend the interlocutory injunction granted on the 22nd of April 2024, as extended on the 24th of April, is refused,” he said.

His honour’s reasonings have yet to be handed down.

Just days after the horrific deaths of several people in stabbing attacks in Westfield Bondi Junction, Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed as his delivered a church service that was also being broadcast online on April 15. He survived and his teenage attacker has been charged with alleged federal terrorism offences.

In the hours following the incident at The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, hundreds gathered out outside the church and a riot ensued, with police injured and vehicles damaged.

The eSafety Commissioner asked social media companies to take down any footage being shared on their platforms labelling it “class 1 material” – content that includes child abuse, terrorism acts or inciting crime and violence.

While Meta complied, X geoblocked the footage in Australia but refused to take it down, saying it would challenge the ruling.

Musk said sharing it was a matter of free speech and taunted Inman Grant on his platform as the “censorship commissar”, also mocking prime minister Anthony Albanese, who called him an “arrogant billionaire”.

While X has a policy on violent content that says people can’t “share violent or adult content within live video or in profile or header images” and “may not threaten, incite, glorify, or express desire for violence or harm”, X Corp said the take-down order was global censorship and the company will “robustly challenge this unlawful and dangerous approach in court”.

The eSafety Commissioner argued that because around a quarter of Australians use a VPN, which can make their online connection appear like it’s based in another country, geoblocking was insufficient.

The regulator obtained an interim court injunction on April 22, ordering X to remove the posts.

The social media platform ignored the ruling, which could potentially see the company fined and held in contempt of court. Political debate over further sanctions and control over social media has also begun.

Friday’s hearing was an application to extend the injunction, which expired on May 13. It was rejected by the court. A final hearing on the matter is expected next month.

Lawyers for X argued that the commissioner’s initial take-down notice was not valid and therefore it did not have to comply.

Bishop Emmanuel has since returned to the pulpit after losing an eye in the attack. He said he supports the right of X to show the footage of his alleged stabbing.

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