X calls takedown orders over Sydney stabbing video “unlawful”

X has flouted orders to remove footage of a stabbing at a church in Sydney’s south west last week, saying Australia’s eSafety watchdog has no authority to block Australians’ posts from its global userbase.

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X has flouted orders to remove footage of a stabbing at a church in Sydney’s south west last week, saying Australia’s eSafety watchdog has no authority to block Australians’ posts from its global userbase.

X calls takedown orders over Sydney stabbing video "unlawful"

Julie Inman Grant

“The Australian censorship commissar is demanding *global* content bans!” Elon Musk tweeted; referring to a 24-hour takedown notice issued to X and Meta, which only the latter compiled with.  

X’s Global Affairs account tweeted that it would “robustly challenge” the “unlawful and dangerous” takedown order that eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant issued the day after the livestreamed attack.

“While X respects the right of a country to enforce its laws within its jurisdiction, the eSafety commissioner does not have the authority to dictate what content X’s users can see globally,” it tweeted.

“Global takedown orders go against the very principles of a free and open internet and threaten free speech everywhere.” 

Setting a precedent 

Although X’s statement said the commissioner “ordered X to remove certain posts in Australia that publicly commented on the recent attack against a Christian Bishop”, the formal order only covers visual depictions of the incident and not commentary about it.

The order also does not cover comments made in tweets sharing the footage, as long the images and videos are blurred or removed, iTnews has confirmed.

However, it is possible that eSafety has made unenforceable requests for X to remove comments on the incident as well; the majority of the thousands of content removals Grant has issued platforms like X, Google, Meta and TikTok are informal. 

While the formal takedowns Grant issued last week only apply to footage of the incident, she also warned users about the dangers of harmful commentary and “online hate speech” when announcing the legal notices at a press conference. 

“I’d also ask that everyone please think critically before commenting on or responding to recent events,” she said.

“This includes refraining from inferring motive or intent behind these heinous crimes or pointing fingers toward any groups or individuals who might be responsible without formal verification from official sources, such as government or police.”

The Australian content nremoval scheme is broad, covering material that “would likely be refused classification under the National Classification Scheme,” including content “likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult” or “incite or instruct crime or violence.” 

Photos related to a separate stabbing attack last week at Westfield Bondi Junction, which took the lives of six people, did not solicit eSafety’s enforceable content removal orders, iTnews has confirmed.

Grant has likely chosen the footage of the unnamed 16-year-old’s alleged attack on a Bishop to set a precedent because NSW Police have declared it a terrorist incident.

The Commissioner’s takedown powers were legislated to mandate a previously unenforceable, blocking scheme that platforms and ISPs voluntarily signed up to after the 2019, live-streamed Christchurch massacre.

Deterence in democracies and dictaroships 

Fines for non-compliance with eSafety’s formal takedowns are capped at $785,000 per day; eSafety has to apply to the Federal Court to grant the penalty; if approved, it’s backdated to the date of the notice. 

Since purchasing X (Twitter at the time) for US$44 billion ($70 billion) in October 2022, Australia’s financial penalties have also failed to deter Musk from violating regulatory reporting regimes.

In October 2023, X was fined $610,500 for not providing eSafety information about its anti-child abuse practices, which as of January — the last update on the case — the company had not paid. 

In contrast, X complied with court orders to suspend four accounts and 409 Tweets in Turkey in May last year.

X’s Global Government Affairs’s account said at the time that keeping the material up would have resulted in authorities putting X offline “over the election weekend”.

“We communicated our concerns about freedom of expression directly. We will continue to object in court, as we have done with all requests, but no further legal action was possible before the start of voting.”

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