X Accused Of Overruling Australian Law On Knife Attack Posts

A lawyer for the Australian government has accused social media company X Corp, formerly Twitter, of overruling Australian law by refusing to remove violent content related to an attack in an Assyrian Orthodox church last month.

X is alone amongst social media companies in fighting a takedown order by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner involving 65 posts showing video of a knife attack in which a bishop and a priest were injured.

Other platforms, such as Facebook parent Meta Platforms, took down the content quickly when asked, said eSafety lawyer Tim Begbie.

X instead geoblocked Australians from seeing the posts, while leaving them online elsewhere.

Image credit: X

Free speech claim

Begbie said that the firm has policies to remove harmful content, as other services do, but chose not to apply them in this case.

“X says… global removal is reasonable when X does it, because X wants to do it, but it becomes unreasonable when X is told to do it by the laws of Australia,” Begbie told a hearing of Federal Court, the country’s second-highest.

X’s refusal should not be allowed as it would determine the definition of “reasonable” within the terms of Australia’s Online Safety Act, Begbie argued.

He said that while X is framing its actions as protecting free speech — a priority for entrepreneur Elon Musk, who bought the platform in 2022 — it is rather an issue of practical application of the law.

‘Startling’

One-quarter of Australians use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access the internet, hiding their geographic location and rendering X’s geoblocking measures ineffective, Begbie said.

“Global removal in these circumstances is a reasonable step. It would achieve what parliament intended, which is no accessibility to end users in Australia,” he said.

X lawyer Bret Walker said the company had taken reasonable steps to comply with the law.

He said it was a “startling” idea that it was “better for the whole world not to see this obviously newsworthy matter” and form their own opinions.

“You don’t expect to see statutes saying the Australian Parliament will regulate what concerning Australia — that is events in Australia — can be viewed in Russia, Finland, Belgium or the United States,” he said.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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