Elon Musk accuses Australia of censorship after court bans stab attack video

Tech billionaire Elon Musk accused Australia of censorship after a judge in the country 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 on Tuesday by describing Mr 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 Mr Musk after he bought Twitter, announced last week it would fight 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.

=Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, right, at a candlelight vigil
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, right, criticised Mr Musk in several television interviews (Mark Baker/AP)

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 on Monday, Justice Geoffrey Kennett suppressed the footage from all X users until Wednesday, when an application for a permanent ban would be heard.

Hours later, Mr 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”.

Mr Musk cited Mr Albanese telling reporters on 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,” Mr Musk posted.

Mr Albanese berated Mr Musk in several television interviews on 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,” Mr 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.

Mr 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,” Mr Albanese told Seven Network.

The regulator’s lawyer, Christopher Tran, had argued in court on Monday that geoblocking Australia did not meet the definition of removal of the footage under Australian law.

Mr 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.

A police forensic officer works at a crime scene at the Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakely in western Sydney
Police attended the scene of the stabbing at the Christ the Good Shepherd church in Wakely in western Sydney on April 15 (Mark Baker/AP)

Mr Musk has described eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant as the “Australian censorship commissar”.

Mr 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.

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

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