Australia takes on ‘arrogant billionaire’ Elon Musk over violent image at X

Australia takes on ‘arrogant billionaire’ Elon Musk over violent image at X

In one camp is a tech billionaire with more than 181 million followers on his own social network. In another, a political leader representing a country of only 26 million people.

Insults have been hurled for days by both sides in the increasingly open fight between X owner Elon Musk and the Australian government that is playing out online and in the Federal Court.

At issue is X’s right to publish a video showing the moment a 16-year-old allegedly stabbed a bishop at an Orthodox Christian Church in Sydney earlier this month.

Australian authorities said the clip sparked riots outside the church after the attack and should not be available for public viewing on a global platform, where it could be used to radicalise potential offenders.

The country’s eSafety commissioner ordered the social media giant to take it down.

Most complied, but X didn’t go far enough, according to the commissioner.

Australia wants X to remove the video entirely, not just hide it from Australian users who can bypass local bans by using virtual private networks.

X says that is an attack on freedom of speech.

“Our concern is that if ANY country is allowed to censor content for ALL countries, which is what Australia’s ‘eSafety Commissar’ is demanding, then what is to stop any country from controlling the entire Internet? Musk posted on X.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday labeled Musk an “arrogant billionaire who thinks he is above the law, but also above common decency.”

After deleting her X account and urging other politicians to do the same, Jacqui Lambie, a straight-talking senator and former soldier from Tasmania, posted an image on Facebook of herself dressed in military fatigues with a message to Musk to “put his big boy on. pants and do the right thing.”

The post went down around midnight in the United States, and as of this writing, X’s boss has not responded. Although his earlier calls on national television for Musk to be jailed led Musk to call him “the enemy of the Australian people.”

X did not respond to a request for comment.

The right to see
On Wednesday, more than a week after the attack, the video was still available to watch on the Australian Jewish Association’s (AJA) X account. President David Adler told CNN he had not been asked to take it down, either by X or the Australian eSafety commissioner.

Adler said AJA received an email from X saying Australian authorities had contacted the company with a takedown request, stating that the video “violated Australian law.”

According to an email seen by CNN, X said: “We want you to have the opportunity to evaluate the request and, if you wish, take appropriate action to protect your interests.”

AJA did not release the video, because Adler believed it was important for the public to see.

“The reason we do that is because the issue of security is of critical importance to the Jewish community,” Adler said. “Politicians do not take the risk of extremism seriously enough. And one of the benefits of showing exactly what’s going on is public awakening. Politicians often won’t act without public pressure and there needs to be some awareness of that risk.”

The eSafety office told CNN it doesn’t have the power to force posters to remove their content, but it requires the platform to do “everything practical and reasonable” to minimize any harm it poses to the community.

On Wednesday, the risk of extremism became clear with a series of raids at 13 locations in Sydney by the Joint Counter Terrorism Team linked to the church attack.

Seven youths, aged 15 to 17, were arrested and another five are assisting police in their investigation, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Deputy Commissioner Krissy Barrett told a news conference.

“We identified connections between the alleged offenders and a network of associates and peers who we believe share the same violent extremist ideology,” he said. “At this time, we have no evidence of a specific location, time or target of the violent act.”

The arrests came as the head of the AFP and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) gave a joint speech to the National Press Club warning that the risks were extreme — and urging social media companies to work with police against forces trying to radicalise children.

“Some of our children and other vulnerable people are being bewitched online by the poison cauldron of extremists on the open and dark web. And that is a serious problem. Another is the nature of social media which allows the extremist poison to spread around the world almost instantly,” said AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw.

Musk versus Australia
Musk’s refusal to take down the video led Australia’s e-safety commissioner to take legal action against X to act or risk fines of up to 782,500 Australian dollars ($508,000) for each day of non-compliance.

On Wednesday, the parties returned to the Federal Court in Sydney, where X’s lawyer Marcus Hoyne explained that the social media platform had not changed its position and would fight what he called the commissioner’s attempt to achieve “excessive jurisdiction.”

He said X will file an affidavit from Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, the cleric who was stabbed multiple times during the church attack, “stating that he strongly believes that the material should be available.”

Christ The Good Shepherd Church, where the attack took place, declined to comment when contacted by CNN.

Joanne Gray, a lecturer in digital culture at the University of Sydney, said the eSafety commissioner’s attempt to extend the takedown order beyond Australia’s borders was not outrageous.

“There’s a long history of platforms working with policymakers and civil society and different groups to moderate content, and Musk’s position is a departure from that,” he told CNN.

Gray said releasing hazardous materials in the jurisdiction where they are published usually limits their spread and any potential harm caused, although admits the system isn’t perfect.

Gray said Musk was trying to apply his stated belief in free speech absolutism to Australia, not to set a precedent for other platforms to follow.

“It is very problematic that any individual has control over a communication platform that has the potential to reach a global audience in an unaccountable way,” he said.

Musk’s fight with the Australian government is one of many the billionaire has launched against authorities he accuses of imposing limits on free speech.

Since Musk bought X, formerly known as Twitter, in 2022, he has stripped away its content moderation and restored some previously blocked accounts, giving it strong support from a loyal following.

In a statement Wednesday, Australia’s eSafety commissioner said the takedown request was not designed to stifle discussion of the church attack.

“The removal notice given to X Corp is not related to comments, public debates or other posts about this event, even those that may be associated with extreme violent content. It only concerns the video of the violent stabbing attack,” he said.

Musk’s supporters have praised the billionaire’s stance in Australia and taken aim at his critics.

Lambie’s office confirmed there had been an increase in trolling of his Facebook account, and Wednesday’s post was closed for comment to prevent more.

The court granted a further injunction requiring X to conceal the violent material until May 10, when all parties will return to court.

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