Australian Court Supports Elon Musk’s X in Freedom of Speech Dispute

An Australian court has ruled in favor of Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) in a dispute over graphic video content.

The eSafety Commissioner, the federal government’s internet safety watchdog, recently obtained an injunction against X for sharing video footage of a knife attack at a Sydney church.

The government classified the attack as a terrorist incident and sought a court order to remove the footage within 24 hours. Four individuals sustained serious injuries in the incident.

X took action by restricting access to the videos within Australia. This means that the content can still be viewed outside of the country and by Australian users who utilize a virtual private network (VPN) to alter their online location.

The injunction and its extension application are considered a dangerous precedent that poses a threat to an open internet and grants governments the power to censor content.

Elon Musk expressed his concern about the demand made by the Australian ‘eSafety Commissar’ to allow any country to censor content for all countries. He raised the question of what would prevent any country from gaining control over the entire Internet. Musk shared his thoughts on the matter during an interview with X.

Elon Musk’s position sparked outrage from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who criticized him for his “arrogance” and for acting as if he were “above Australian law.” In interviews conducted in April, Albanese pointed out that the e-Safety Commissioner had issued a ruling, and other social media platforms had complied without complaint. He also emphasized that this measure had bipartisan support in Australia.

Justice Geoffrey Kennett rejected the eSafety Commissioner’s application to extend the injunction on Monday. Although he did not provide an explanation for his decision, a further hearing is scheduled later this week before a final decision is made.

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The debate surrounding government controls over the internet, national security, and censorship is filled with contradictions and ongoing legal battles. A prime example of this is the current argument made by Bytedance, the parent company of social media platform TikTok, against a U.S. decision to force its sale. Bytedance claims that this action goes against the U.S. First Amendment right to free speech. However, it is important to note that TikTok’s sister company, Douyin, willingly adheres to the Chinese government’s content censorship regulations.

Tim Begbie, the lawyer representing the eSafety Commissioner in court, highlighted the complexity and contradictions surrounding the case. He pointed out that X had voluntarily removed content in certain instances, but had resisted complying with the order from the Australian government.

Begbie argued in court that the global removal of content is seen as reasonable when done voluntarily, but it becomes unreasonable when it is mandated by Australian laws.

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