‘Arrogant billionaire’: Australia, Musk in war of words over censorship

Elon Musk and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese clash over order to remove X posts on church stabbing.

Australia and Elon Musk have escalated their war of words over censorship after an Australian court ordered social media platform X to remove footage of a church stabbing.

An Australian judge on Monday ruled that X must block users worldwide from accessing videos of a knife attack on an Assyrian Christian bishop in Sydney after the country’s internet watchdog sought an injunction.

The Federal Court in Sydney granted the temporary global ban after X had said it would challenge eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant’s notice to remove posts related to last week’s attack on Mar Mari Emmanuel.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday that the government was prepared to take on Musk, whom he labelled an “arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency”.

“What the eSafety Commissioner is doing is doing her job to protect the interests of Australians, and 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. Mr Musk is not showing any,” Albanese told public broadcaster ABC.

Albanese had earlier said it was “extraordinary” that X had decided to challenge the eSafety commissioner’s notice and denied the issue was a matter of freedom of speech.

Australian Prime minister Anthony Albanese attends a candlelight vigil for the victims of a stabbing attack at the Bondi Junction Westfield shopping centre in Sydney on April 21
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese  has criticised Elon Musk for challenging a takedown notice issued by the country’s internet watchdog [Izhar Khan/AFP]

Musk, who bought the platform formally known as Twitter in 2022, on Tuesday indicated that he would fight the court order.

“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.

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

Musk earlier posted a meme depicting X as being pro-free speech and other social media platforms supporting censorship and propaganda, with the caption: “Don’t take my word for it, just ask the Australian PM!”

Australia’s government has blamed social media posts related to the attack on Emmanuel for inflaming community tensions in multicultural Sydney.

Under its Online Safety Act passed in 2021, Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to hold tech companies responsible for the content posted on their platforms.

Emmanuel, a prominent conservative leader of the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley in western Sydney, suffered lacerations to his head when he was attacked last Monday during a mass service that was being broadcast online.

More than 50 police officers were injured and 20 police cars damaged in an ensuing riot outside the church.

Emmanuel, who survived the attack, released a message last week saying he was “doing fine, recovering very quickly” and that he had forgiven his attacker.

Police on Friday charged a 16-year-old with terrorism offences in connection with the stabbing.

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