The high profile clash between Elon Musk, the owner of X (formerly Twitter) and the Australian government seems to have been concluded.

Australia’s cyber safety regulator on Wednesday have decided to drop a legal challenge against X over the removal of videos of the stabbing of an Assyrian church bishop in Sydney. It comes after a legal setback last month in a federal court down under.

In April Australia’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, had ordered the removal of material deemed to depict “gratuitous or offensive violence with a high degree of impact or detail” within 24 hours or potentially face fines.

“Arrogant billionaire”

The offending video footage was of the stabbing of bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel on 15 April while he was giving a livestreamed service at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakeley.

That knife attack came shortly after another criminal in Australia was shot and killed by a police officer, after he stabbed six people to death and wounded more than a dozen others.

Both Meta and X said they had complied with the request.

However the video on X was geoblocked from Australia, but was available elsewhere as it prepared to challenge the order.

The Aussie regulator argued that geo-blocking Australians was ineffective because of VPNs that can disguise people’s locations.

Elon Musk in a tweet claimed that “the Australian censorship commissar is demanding *global* content bans!”

This prompted Australian Prime Minister Albanese to public berate Musk in several television interviews, describing Musk as an “arrogant billionaire” who considered himself above the law and was out of touch with the public.

A lawyer for the Australian government last month accused X of overruling Australian law by refusing to remove the violent content.

Reuters reported that Judge Geoffrey Kennett had rejected the bid by the eSafety commissioner to extend a temporary order for the social media platform to block videos of the knife attack, which Australian authorities had called a terrorist attack.

Case dropped

Now the eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant in a statement has confirmed it has dropped the case against X.

“Today I have decided to consolidate action concerning my Class 1 removal notice to X Corp in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal,” she wrote. “After weighing multiple considerations, including litigation across multiple cases, I have considered this option likely to achieve the most positive outcome for the online safety of all Australians, especially children.”

“As a result, I have decided to discontinue the proceedings in the Federal Court against X Corp in relation to the matter of extreme violent material depicting the real-life graphic stabbing of a religious leader at Wakeley in Sydney on 15 April 2024,” said Grant.

“We now welcome the opportunity for a thorough and independent merits review of my decision to issue a removal notice to X Corp by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal,” Grant said.

“Our sole goal and focus in issuing our removal notice was to prevent this extremely violent footage from going viral, potentially inciting further violence and inflicting more harm on the Australian community,” she added. “I stand by my investigators and the decisions eSafety made.”

“Most Australians accept this kind of graphic material should not be on broadcast television, which begs an obvious question of why it should be allowed to be distributed freely and accessible online 24/7 to anyone, including children,” she said.

“Indeed, a key issue of concern for me throughout this process, was the ease by which children were able to access this extremely violent stabbing video on X,” she said.

She pointed out that major social media platforms and search engines complied with Australia’s requests and removal notices, including Meta, Microsoft, Google, Snap, Tik Tok, Reddit and Telegram.

“This is because the video violated their terms of service and their standards of decency,” she said.

A 16-year-old youth has been charged with a terrorism act motivated by suspected religious extremism.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel (who was stabbed) has recovered and said he forgives his attacker.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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