Australian court orders Elon Musk’s X to hide Sydney church stabbing posts from users globally

<span>‘I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case,’ the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, says.</span><span>Photograph: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Shutterstock</span>
‘I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case,’ the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, says.Photograph: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

The Australian federal court has ordered Elon Musk’s X to hide posts containing videos of a stabbing at a Sydney church last week from users globally, after the eSafety commissioner launched an urgent court case on Monday evening seeking an injunction.

X, along with Meta, were ordered by the eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, on Tuesday last week to remove material deemed to depict “gratuitous or offensive violence with a high degree of impact or detail” within 24 hours or potentially face fines.

The material was footage of the alleged stabbing of bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel last Monday evening while he was giving a livestreamed service at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakeley.

On the weekend, X said it had complied with the request, but intended to launch a legal case challenging the orders.

In a hearing late on Monday afternoon, barrister for eSafety, Christopher Tran, told Justice Geoffrey Kennett that X had geo-blocked the posts containing the video, meaning Australians could not access them. However, the posts were still accessible globally, and to Australians who used a virtual private network (VPN) connection that made their IP address appear outside Australia.

Tran said that meant that X was not compliant with the online safety act around the removal of the material.

The agency wanted the posts to be removed, with an interim measure for the posts to be blocked from access globally.

X’s legal representation, Marcus Hoyne, sought to have the matter adjourned. He noted that it was close to 2am in San Francisco, where X is headquartered, and he had no instructions from his client on the matter.

Kennett said the “better course” was to make the interim order until a later hearing, and ordered the content be put behind a notice globally, with the interim order in place until 5pm Wednesday, 24 April Sydney time.

The assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones, on Monday described X as a “factory for trolls and misinformation” as the government vowed to fight any legal challenges brought by the company over removal orders related to the video of the Wakeley stabbing.

In a statement after the hearing, a spokesperson for the eSafety commissioner said the notice did not cover commentary or public debate about the event, but only the video of the alleged stabbing.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said on Monday that the “pain of many people has been exacerbated by what occurred on social media”.

Albanese said there was no place for the broadcast of violent images, adding: “I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case.”

Related: Elon Musk and X to fight Australian eSafety order to remove content relating to Sydney stabbing

Meta was found to have complied with the request, but on Saturday morning Australian time, X accused the online safety regulator of “global censorship” and said it would challenge the orders in court. The company argued it did not believe the orders were within the scope of Australian law.

“The Australian censorship commissar is demanding *global* content bans!” Musk said in a tweet.

On Monday, Jones responded that the government “will fight it”.

“At the same time we’re looking at all of the laws across these areas to ensure that our regulators have the power to do what is necessary to keep our online platforms safe,” he told ABC’s RN Breakfast. “And then Twitter can’t be the place where criminals go, where cranks and crooks go to propagate their messages. At the moment it’s a factory for trolls and misinformation that damages the brand of the company, but it does a lot of damage to social cohesion in the process.”

He said it was “incredibly disappointing” that Musk decided to “make fun” of the lawful direction rather than complying with it.

“Decency can’t be dead. And I think any Australian looking at that would go: ‘Come on.’ Like it’s a pretty simple and straightforward request. It’s a lawful request.”

The minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten, told the ABC that X was expressing an attitude that it was “above the laws of a nation”.

“It is entirely unexceptional of a nation to say we want to take down some of the most violent and shocking footage, and somehow for them to say we’ve got freedom of speech, but we’re allowed to pollute the metaphorical airwaves with horrible vile and imagery – no one gets to vote for X.”

The regulator said eSafety had worked cooperatively with other companies including Google, Microsoft, Snap and TikTok to remove the same material.

On Sunday the opposition leader, Peter Dutton expressed support for the actions by eSafety and said X saw itself as above the law.

Related: Peter Dutton backs laws to crack down on ‘above the law’ social media companies over misinformation

“The Australian law does apply and the fact is that X and Meta and other companies have a presence here. They make literally, or at least turn over, billions of dollars worth of revenue in the Australian economy,” he said. “I think what they’re worried about is the flow on to other markets, if Australia’s laws are upheld.

“That’s all the more reason, I think, for us to take a stance – it’s important for us – but for other democracies as well.”

The Greens communications spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young, said Musk should “front up” to parliament.

“The online tech thugs are operating as if it’s the wild west. Elon Musk should front up to the Australian people, he should front up here to parliament and argue why his company shouldn’t have a social conscience and shouldn’t be doing the right thing,” she said.

It is the latest salvo in a battle between X and the eSafety commissioner. Last year the eSafety commissioner began legal proceedings over a failure to pay a $610,500 fine for allegedly failing to provide information about how it was tackling online child abuse material. X has also launched court proceedings to challenge the ruling.

The company also claimed last month it would launch a case over a tweet allegedly bullying a trans man that the company withheld from access in Australia after a notice from eSafety. The case has not yet been filed in the federal court.

X was approached for comment.