Australian watchdog demands X take down video worldwide

Twitter’s official profile on a smartphone screen features the white letter X on a black background, Berlin, Germany, July 24, 2023. /CFP

Twitter’s official profile on a smartphone screen features the white letter X on a black background, Berlin, Germany, July 24, 2023. /CFP

Australia’s online watchdog told a court on Friday that it was seeking worldwide removal of X posts that show a Sydney stabbing, a test of the social media platform’s legal responsibilities and the use of geoblocking.

Lawyers for the eSafety Commission told the Federal Court that X had not taken all reasonable steps to remove 65 video and audio clips of a knife attack on an Assyrian bishop. The commission has the power to demand internet companies remove illegal material, such as terrorism content, from their platforms. Following the stabbing, the commission issued several take-down notices to social media companies.

But the commission claims X only restricted the videos for users in Australia.

Tim Begbie, representing the commission, said that despite X geoblocking the video in Australia, it could still be viewed there using virtual private networks that mask a user’s location. “If, truly, the only step you can take, because of how you have set up your systems and policies, is global removal, then that is a reasonable step,” he said.

According to Begbie, while X has policies that allow the global removal of content, it has declined to use them. “X says that reasonable means what X wants it to mean. Global removal is reasonable because X wants to do it, but it becomes unreasonable when X is told to do it by the laws of Australia.” Begbie said that VPNs were used by a quarter of Australians. “This is not a proceeding about a free speech policy debate.”

Rather, he said, the case is about whether the graphic material was suitable under Australia’s Online Safety Act, and the law’s powers to “protect the public” from restricted content.

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was allegedly slashed in the head and chest by a 16-year-old suspect during an April 15 service. It was swiftly deemed a terrorist incident by police. The bishop, who has since recovered, has supported the video’s distribution.

A lawyer for X, Bret Walker, told the court the take-down order only related to Australians’ access. He added that more consideration was needed about whether the stabbing video met the threshold for removal. Walker used the example of a war movie to highlight that just because footage depicts a murder it does not automatically meet the threshold.

He argued the same consideration was not given by the eSafety Commission when it issued take-down orders to X, making the removal notice invalid.

Justice Geoffrey Kennett extended the court’s order requiring X to block the attack videos until next week, when the issue of global removal will likely be addressed.

Owner of X Elon Musk has previously said a global ban goes beyond the powers of the eSafety Commission.

Source(s): AFP