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Elon Musk accuses Australia of censorship after court bans violent video

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Tech billionaire Elon Musk accused Australia of censorship after an Australian judge ruled that his social media platform X must block users worldwide from accessing video of a bishop being stabbed in a Sydney church.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded Tuesday by describing Musk as an “arrogant billionaire” who considered himself above the law and was out of touch with the public.

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 geoblocked from Australia but available elsewhere.

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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.

Hours later, Musk posted on his personal X account a cartoon that depicted a fork in a 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."

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’s continuing 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.

X did not immediately respond Tuesday when asked if and how the company had complied with the court order.

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.

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 $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.

The live feed of the church attack and social media posts that followed attracted a crowd of 2,000 people and fueled a riot against police, who barricaded the young suspected attacker inside the place of worship.

The rioting injured 51 police officers and damaged 104 police vehicles, officials said.

Three alleged rioters were arrested by Sunday and police released images Monday of 12 suspects they accuse of being the main instigators of the violence, taken from video of the riot.

A 16-year-old boy accused of the stabbings has been charged with terrorism offenses. He has received online condemnation and praise for the attack.

Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press