X labels eSafety church case drop a win for free speech

William Ton |

Federal Court proceedings against Elon Musk’s X have been dropped.
Federal Court proceedings against Elon Musk’s X have been dropped.

Social media giant X has hailed the Australian internet watchdog’s decision to drop a court battle over graphic videos of a Sydney church stabbing as a win for freedom of speech.

The eSafety Commissioner on Wednesday announced she is discontinuing Federal Court proceedings against X, formerly known as Twitter, after clips of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being stabbed during a live-streamed sermon on April 15 remained on the platform for Australian users to see.

Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant said she had decided to consolidate action in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on X Corp removing the videos.

“After weighing multiple considerations, including litigation across multiple cases, I have considered this option likely to achieve the most positive outcome for the online safety of all Australians, especially children,” she said in a statement.

“As a result, I have decided to discontinue the proceedings in the Federal Court against X Corp.”

X’s Global Government Affairs account said it welcomed the news the eSafety Commissioner had discontinued the legal action, which sought the global removal of content which it said did not violate X’s rules.

“This case has raised important questions on how legal powers can be used to threaten global censorship of speech and we are heartened to see that freedom of speech has prevailed,” it said.

X’s owner Elon Musk also reacted to the development on his platform, saying, “Freedom of speech is worth fighting for”.

A review of Ms Inman-Grant’s decision to issue X the removal notice will be conducted by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, as the commissioner stands by her decision.

“Our sole goal and focus in issuing our removal notice was to prevent this extremely violent footage from going viral, potentially inciting further violence and inflicting more harm on the Australian community,” she said.

The commissioner said the key concern throughout the case was the ease by which children were able to access the “extremely violent” stabbing video on X.

X had removed a separate video that featured a compilation of the Bondi stabbings, the Sydney church stabbing and older footage of the killing of two Victorian police officers, when notified by the commission following the church attack.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant (file image)
Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant said she had decided to consolidate her action in the tribunal. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“It was a reasonable expectation when we made our request to remove extremely graphic video of an attack, that X Corp would take action in line with these publicly stated policies and practices,” Ms Inman-Grant said.

The commissioner said she would continue to use all her powers under the Online Safety Act to hold tech companies to account without fear or favour.

“We will not waver from this commitment.”

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Wednesday acknowledged the decision of the independent regulator to both bring and discontinue legal proceedings in the Federal Court against X Corp.

“The government backs our regulators, and we back the eSafety Commissioner – particularly in light of the reprehensible threats to her physical safety and the threats to her family in the course of doing her job,” she told parliament.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel (file image)
Footage of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being stabbed during a sermon remained on X for users to view. (HANDOUT/Christ of Good Shepherd Church)

A 16-year-old boy has been charged with a terrorism offence after allegedly stabbing the bishop at Christ the Good Shepherd church in western Sydney.

Six boys, aged 14 to 17, who were loosely connected to the 16-year-old, have been charged after an investigation into a group allegedly adhering to religiously motivated violent extremist ideology.

The eSafety Commissioner had previously brought two cases against X in the Federal Court over child sexual abuse material on the platform.