X wins court reprieve in battle over extreme Australian content

The new Twitter logo rebranded as X, is pictured in Paris on July 24, 2023. [AFP]

A bid by Australia's online watchdog to impose a ban on dozens of violent X posts stumbled on Monday when a top judge ruled in favour of the social media firm.

Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Kennett refused to extend a temporary order to take down posts that show the stabbing of a Sydney priest in April, pending further legal action.

"The orders of the court will be that the application to extend the interlocutory injunction... is refused," Kennett said, without immediately giving the reasons for his decision.

Australia's eSafety Commissioner wants Elon Musk's company to take down about 65 video and audio clips of an April 15 non-fatal stabbing that was livestreamed.

The site, formerly known as Twitter, has agreed to geoblock the posts, theoretically preventing them from being seen by users in Australia.

But the eSafety Commission has said that does not go far enough.

It has called for X to remove the posts globally, saying they are still easily viewed in Australia through the use of virtual private networks that mask a user's location.

Unlike other social media companies, X has refused, claiming the issue was one of free speech.

"Only X resisted censoring your voice" Musk posted to followers.

The posts show Assyrian orthodox Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being stabbed about six times during a livestreamed sermon.

A 16-year-old has been charged with "committing a terrorist act" in relation to the attack, which is said to have been religiously motivated.

The attack sparked a riot outside the church, as panicked relatives of those inside sought vigilante justice.

Emmanuel has an online following of almost 200,000, galvanising them by his criticism of Covid-19 vaccines, lockdowns and Islam.

Not the end

Monday's ruling is not a total victory for X, as it had already been ignoring the worldwide take-down order and further legal action is expected.

It is unclear whether the judge rejected the extension of the order on procedural or more substantive grounds.

But it does signify a reprieve, and could mean the firm avoids fines running to millions of dollars.

The case is being seen as an important test of social media platforms' legal responsibilities and of the use of geoblocking.

Almost a quarter of Australians use virtual private networks, according to the eSafety Commission.

Musk has previously told X users to use virtual private networks to bypass alleged "censorship" in Brazil.

Musk has frequently targeted democratically elected governments like those in Australia, Brazil and Canada over free speech, but has notably avoided criticism of autocratic countries where he has business interests.

By Kamau Muthoni 54 mins ago
Business
Premium Heineken set to pay distributor Sh1.7bn in Supreme Court blow
Opinion
Digital Media City pact with South Korea a big boost for Kenya's creative industry
Business
Treasury mulls budget cuts if Finance Bill 2024 fails
Business
Anti-budget push could yield fruits that poison Ruto, IMF relationship