What can the government do about X’s refusal to take down violent videos?

What can the government do about X’s refusal to take down violent videos?
  • PublishedApril 23, 2024

Elon Musk’s social media platform X is threatening a legal fight with the Australian government after being issued a take-down notice for X posts, including videos of the recent Sydney stabbings.

Billionaire X Corp owner Mr Musk has angered the government by pledging to fight an order to remove graphic footage of the stabbing attacks from his platform. 

Mr Musk said the eSafety commissioner’s take-down order on the footage was a demand for “global content bans” by Australia’s “censorship commissar”.

X said it would remove the content while challenging the “unlawful and dangerous approach” in court.

But late on Monday, the eSafety commissioner moved first in launching her own legal action, saying X was in defiance of the law because it had only hidden the content in Australia, making it visible to any Australian user who obscured their location using a virtual private network (VPN).

The federal court granted a two-day injunction, ordering X to hide the material worldwide pending further consideration.

But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he found it “extraordinary” that X initially chose not to comply with the order to remove the violent videos, and expressed incredulity it was trying to argue its “case”.

“This isn’t about freedom of expression,” the prime minister said. “Social media has a social responsibility”. 

It would not be the first time X, formerly Twitter, has been involved in legal proceedings with the Australian government.

So in the age of the rise of misinformation, disinformation and a reported increase in violent extremism online, can the government control what Australians see online?

Can Elon Musk or X sue the Australian government?

Technically, yes.

Only a few weeks ago, X refused to comply with another removal notice, risking an $800,000 fine from the commission which asked it to remove posts it says harassed an Australian World Health Organization panel member.

X followed up with a statement setting its intention to sue the government over the notice and threat of a fine, noting its right to protect users’ free speech. 

X was also fined by the eSafety Commission $610,500 for failing to cooperate with a probe into anti-child-abuse practices. The matter is now in mediation in the federal court. V

In response, a spokesperson for the communications minister said the “Coalition has flip-flopped on its position since 2022, putting politics first and running an irresponsible ‘bin the bill’ campaign, instead of working to hold big tech to account and keep Australians safe online”.

“The government welcomes the mature and constructive engagement we’ve had with other key stakeholders during consultation on the bill, which we’re working to refine before its introduction into parliament this year,” the spokesperson said. 

In mid-March this year, the eSafety commissioner sent legal notices to Google-owned YouTube, Google, Meta’s Instagram and Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, Reddit and X demanding they show their measures to protect Australians from online extremism.

The ABC has asked if it has received a response from any parties. 


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