The 'arrogant' billionaire versus the Australian free speech 'censor'

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 24 April 2024
Credit: Anger Andre Hunter via Unsplash

Australia's efforts to block "violent" content on social media have come up against billionaire Elon Musk's free speech charge. 

A slanging match is in progress: Australia versus the owner of social media platform X, formerly Twitter. 

Prime minister Anthony Albanese describes Musk as an "arrogant billionaire who thinks he is above the law".

Musk, with tongue in check, tweeted on his platform X: "I'd like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one."

The Federal Court has ordered an injunction against social media platform X, formerly Twitter, to stop displaying a video showing the stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at a church in Sydney. 

Footage captured from a livestream of the bishop giving a service at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church has been circulating online. The Bishop is recovering and has forgiven the attacker. A16-year-old has been charged. 

eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant sees the content as "extreme and gratuitous". She used her powers under the Online Safety Act to formally compel X to remove it. 

X said it would comply pending a legal challenge. 

Here's how musk sees the move:

Elon Musk view from X april 2024

"This guy is saying more about himself than anything else," said Anthony Albanese .

"He's putting his ego and putting his billionaire's dollars towards taking a court case for the right to put more violent content on that will sow social division and cause distress."

Other social media platforms, including Meta, accepted the decision of the eSafety commissioner.

But Musk's concern is that if ANY country is allowed to censor content for ALL countries, which is what the Australian "eSafety Commissar" is demanding, then what is to stop any country from controlling the entire Internet?

"We have already censored the content in question for Australia, pending legal appeal, and it is stored only on servers in the USA," Musk said.

"Should the eSafety Commissar (an unelected official) in Australia have authority over all countries on Earth?"

The eSafety commissioner said the  issue wasn't comment but violence.

"To be clear, the removal notice does not relate to commentary, public debate or other posts about this event," a spokesperson for the commissioner said. "It only concerns the video of the violent stabbing attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel."

The conservative free market public policy think tank the Institute of Public Affairs accuses the federal government of using the stabbing to justify proposed misinformation laws.

"After the Voice to Parliament referendum failed last year, the federal government cynically sought to blame the result on so-called ‘misinformation', and used the outcome to push forward with its proposed internet censorship laws," said John Storey, director of law and policy at the Institute of Public Affairs.

"The government is now up to the same trick in attempting to link the stabbings in Sydney on misinformation, so it can hand enormous powers to unelected officials to censor debate it does not agree with."

The institute pointed to a statement by Albanese before he left for Papua New Guinea:  " ... now surely there is now a recognition that misinformation is a problem on social media.

"I attended a very moving ceremony last night at Bondi Beach, and it's a tragedy that six Australians lost their lives last week in what was a senseless act of violence.

"But it's also the pain of many people has been exacerbated by what occurred on social media - the broadcasting of violent images that have no place.

"Social media has a social responsibility, and in addition to that of course, we know some of the misinformation, including naming some innocent bloke as the perpetrator, is just extraordinary that that occurred and that that was replicated.

"We need to recognise that, and social media has a responsibility."

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