Australian Court Sides With Elon Musk’s X in Freedom of Speech Row

Elon Musk
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

An Australian court on Monday sided with Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) in an argument over graphic video.

The federal government’s internet safety watchdog, known as the eSafety Commissioner, had last month won an injunction against X over video footage of a knife attack at a Sydney church.

The government had ruled that the attack in which four people were seriously injured, constituted a terrorist incident and applied to the courts for an order requiring the removal of the footage within 24 hours.

X complied by blocking access to the videos within Australia only. That allows the footage to be seen outside the country and by Australian users who use a virtual private network (VPN) to change their online location.

But it also said that the injunction, and an application to extend it, represented a “dangerous precedent” that threatens an open internet and empowers governments to censor content.

Elon Musk / X

“Our 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?” Musk said on X.

Musk’s stance outraged the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who accused Musk of “arrogance” and acting “above Australian law.” “The e-Safety Commissioner has made a ruling. The other social media platforms all complied without complaint,” Albanese said in interviews in April. “This is a measure that has a bipartisan support in this country.”

On Monday, however, Justice Geoffrey Kennett rejected the eSafety Commissioner’s application to extend the injunction. He did not explain his reasoning and a further hearing on the matter is scheduled later this week ahead of a final decision.

The issues of government controls over the internet, national security versus censorship and the extent of jurisdiction, is fraught with contradictions and ongoing cases – Bytedance is currently arguing that a U.S. decision to force it to sell social media platform TikTok is against the U.S. First Amendment right to free speech, yet TiKtok’s sister company Douyin actively complies with the Chinese government’s content censorship regime.

The complexity and contradictions were illustrated by Tim Begbie, the lawyer representing the eSafety Commissioner in court. He said that in other cases X had chosen of its own accord to remove content, but that it resisted the order from the Australian government.

“X says [..] global removal is reasonable when X does it because X wants to do it, but it becomes unreasonable when it is told to do it by the laws of Australia,” Begbie told the court.

From Variety US