Australia drops legal fight against X over church stabbing video

Damond Isiaka
6 Min Read

Brisbane, Australia

Australia’s eSafety commissioner has dropped her legal bid to force Elon Musk’s social media site X to hide a violent video of a church stabbing in Sydney from global users.

Julie Inman Grant had sought a Federal Court ruling after X failed to fully comply with a takedown order issued under the country’s Online Safety Act following the incident in April.

Instead, Inman Grant said Wednesday she would “consolidate action” concerning the removal notice in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an independent review process that examines decisions taken by the commissioner.

“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.

The eSafety commissioner had wanted X to hide the video for users beyond Australian borders. Musk criticized the request as an excessive overreach by an unelected official that could set a precedent for other countries to demand the removal of sensitive material.

“Our concern is that if ANY country is allowed to censor content for ALL countries, which is what the Australian ‘eSafety Commissar’ is demanding, then what is to stop any country from controlling the entire Internet?” Musk posted on X in April.

In a statement, X welcomed the latest development as a victory for free speech.

“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.

Joanne Gray, a lecturer in digital cultures at the University of Sydney, said the decision to drop the case was “rational” for a public institution with limited resources. But she added that the question of Australia’s jurisdiction over online content remains unanswered.

“[Musk] might claim it’s a victory for free speech but I don’t think that is really what it is. It’s more of a corporate win, and says more about the ability of platform companies to operate outside of the reach of governments,” Gray said.

She said the end of the legal action demonstrates the need for a global approach to online regulation, adding that “it’s hard for Australia to fix these issues when it’s acting alone.”

The controversial video showed the moment Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed, allegedly by a 16-year-old assailant, while delivering a sermon at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in western Sydney. The incident set off a riot outside the church that authorities said was stoked by the rapid distribution of the video online.


However, in court filings, lawyers for X argued that it had taken down some URLs seen by an Australian audience, but the video was readily available to view on other sites.

“The Video is, and at all material times has been, widely accessible to persons in Australia other than on the X platform, including in its full form on other social media services and various websites,” court documents said.

Musk’s lawyers also said the commissioner had failed to consider that the video was shared with the bishop’s consent, not by his assailant. The Assyrian Orthodox cleric was quoted in court filings as supporting the distribution of the video as an exercise in free speech.

“Noting our God given right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, I am not opposed to [the video] remaining on social media,” the bishop said, according to court documents.

In her statement Wednesday, Inman Grant defended her decision to pursue the matter, which she said had given the agency an opportunity to test its “novel regulatory powers … to protect Australians from online harm.”

“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. I stand by my investigators and the decisions eSafety made,” the statement said.

Inman Grant told Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, that she’d been subject to personal attacks, including death threats, from Musk’s supporters.

“Targeting a regulator who is here to protect the citizens of Australia is really beyond the pale, but it’s not surprising,” she reportedly told the ABC.

X, formerly known as Twitter, has faced ongoing scrutiny over the spread of controversial content on the platform, including hateful speech and conspiracy theories, since it was taken over by Musk in 2022.

Last month, the platform named a new head of safety, nine months after its previous safety leader resigned following just seven months in the role.

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *