Future Tech

Australia secures takedown order for terror videos, which Elon Musk wants to fight

Tan KW
Publish date: Tue, 23 Apr 2024, 12:52 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

Australia's government has secured a court order requiring Elon Musk's social network, X, to remove all videos depicting a terrorist attack.

The incident saw an Australian man attack bishop Mari Emmanuel in Sydney, Australia. The act was live-streamed, as it took place as Emmanuel spoke before his congregation, and appears to have been motivated by Emmanuel's positions that saw the obscure Australia cleric become a minor social media personality.

Videos of the incident were widely shared after the attack.

Australian authorities declared the incident was a terrorist attack, based on local laws that define such acts as involving religiously or ideologically motivated violence. Australia, like many nations, feels content depicting such attacks is bad for social cohesion and can motivate others to commit similar acts.

The nation's eSafety Commissioner therefore used its power to contact social networks and asked them ensure videos of the act did not proliferate. Most tried to comply.

X geo-blocked the vids and vowed to challenge a requirement to prevent the content being seen outside Australia.

On Monday, the eSafety Commissioner used the Federal Court to secure an injunction requiring X to take down videos depicting the act of terror - in part because Australians using virtual private networks could circumvent X's geoblocks.

X is yet to respond, but on Tuesday Musk posed the question of whether the Commissioner should "have authority over all countries on Earth?"

The Register can't answer that question.

But we do know that X has joined with 130 countries and many other social networks in a pledge to avoid posting terrorist content, and to remove it expeditiously.

Ignoring The Christchurch Call

X made that commitment in 2019 when, as Twitter, it became a supporter of The Christchurch Call - a set of 25 commitments designed to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The Call was developed in response to the March 2019 act of terror that saw an Australian man murder 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The murderer live-streamed his depraved acts, and those vile videos were widely shared.

The Call requires different commitments of government and online service providers. Among those required of the latter are the following actions:

Days after the Call was finalized, Twitter became a signatory. Elon Musk's renamed platform, X, is listed as a supporter of the Call and therefore committed to the document's suggested actions.

In December 2022, Musk met with French president Emmanuel Macron, who wrote that the billionaire "confirmed Twitter's participation to the Christchurch Call. There is no place for terrorist and violent extremist content anywhere."

17 months later, it appears Musk no longer holds the views Macron conveyed. And X, it appears, is ignoring the Christchurch Call in pursuit of Musk's maximalist definition of free speech.

The Christchurch Call opens by stating "A free, open and secure internet is a powerful tool to promote connectivity, enhance social inclusiveness and foster economic growth."

It goes on to lament that terrorist content can appear online, adding "The dissemination of such content online has adverse impacts on the human rights of the victims, on our collective security and on people all over the world."

The document also states "All action on this issue must be consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression."

Those last four words, it seems, are Musk's loophole.

But in Australia, few think the billionaire has an out. Politicians of all stripes have described him as arrogant, acting as if he is above the law, and just plain irresponsible to permit circulation of content that depicts a vile act and has such clear potential for harm.

Your correspondent is an Australian citizen and feels the national mood will welcome tougher laws.

Ironically, it's foreseeable those changes will make life harder for those who, like Bishop Emmanuel, share strong views online. Musk's intransigence and inconsistency could therefore hurt the cause for which he claims he's fighting. ®



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