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Musk responds to Australian PM's 'It's about common sense' remarks on removal of church attack video

Elon Musk lashed out at Australia's prime minister on Tuesday after a court ordered his social media company X to take down footage of an alleged terrorist attack in Sydney.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Sydney Updated on: April 23, 2024 13:25 IST
Elon Musk (R) and the Australian church whose priest was attacked by a teenager.
Image Source : AP Elon Musk (R) and the Australian church whose priest was attacked by a teenager (L).

A war of words has erupted between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the Australian government as well as a judge after the latter asked social media platform, X, to remove the videos related to a recent Sydney church attack. The government asked to take down all videos of the church episode wherein a teenager attacked a famous priest. It dubbed the videos "violent" and a threat to the safety of society.

Musk accused Australia of imposing censorship on free speech. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded by describing Musk as an “arrogant billionaire” who considered himself above the law and was out of touch with the public.

What happened in Sydney?

X Corp., the tech company rebranded in 2023 by Musk after he bought Twitter, announced last week it would fight in court Australian orders to take down posts relating to a knife attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in an Assyrian Orthodox church as a service was being streamed online on April 15. The material was geo-blocked from Australia but available elsewhere.

But the regulator that made the orders, Australia's eSafety Commission, which describes itself as the world's first government agency dedicated to keeping people safer online, successfully applied to the Federal Court in Sydney for a temporary global ban on sharing the video of the bishop being stabbed.

In an after-hours hearing Monday, Justice Geoffrey Kennett suppressed the footage from all X users until Wednesday, when an application for a permanent ban will be heard.

Musk opines judgment as violation of free speech

Hours later, Musk posted on his personal X account a cartoon that depicted a fork in the road with one path leading to “free speech” and “truth” and the other to “censorship” and “propaganda.” Musk cited Albanese telling reporters Monday that other social media platforms had largely complied with the regulator's orders to take violent content down. “I'd like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one,” Musk posted.

Albanese berated Musk in several television interviews Tuesday. “We'll do what's necessary to take on this arrogant billionaire who thinks he's above the law, but also above common decency,” Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The idea that someone would go to court for the right to put up violent content on a platform shows how out of touch Mr. Musk is. Social media needs to have social responsibility with it."

"This isn't about censorship. It's about common sense": Australian PM

Albanese told Sky News, “This is a bloke who's chosen ego and showing violence over common sense.” “This isn't about censorship. It's about common sense and common decency. And Elon Musk should show some,” Albanese told Seven Network. The regulator's lawyer, Christopher Tran, had argued Monday in court that geoblocking Australia did not meet the definition of removal of the footage under Australian law.

Tran said the footage was a “graphic and violent video” that would cause “irreparable harm if it continued to circulate.” X's lawyer, Marcus Hoyne, said he was unable to get instructions from his San Francisco-based client because it was early Monday morning in the United States. Musk has described eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant as the “Australian censorship commissar.”

Albanese said on Monday that social media posts, misinformation and dissemination of violent images had exacerbated suffering from the church attack, which the two clerics survived, as well as a knife attack at a Sydney shopping mall two days earlier that killed six people.

What X says 

X's Global Government Affairs team said Saturday that Inman Grant ordered it to remove some posts that commented on the church attack, but it said the posts did not violate X's rules on violent speech. X said the Australian regulator had demanded the platform “globally withhold these posts or face a daily fine of USD 785,000.”

“X believes that eSafety's order was not within the scope of Australian law and we complied with the directive pending a legal challenge,” the Global Government Affairs account said. “While X respects the right of a country to enforce its laws within its jurisdiction, the eSafety Commissioner does not have the authority to dictate what content X's users can see globally." “We will robustly challenge this unlawful and dangerous approach in court,” it added.

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Albanese calls X's argument over removal of Sydney church stabbing posts 'extraordinary'

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