Will Australia ban X?


Elon Musk and Australian authorities have been embroiled in a squabble over content takedowns – but could this result in the disappearance of the app entirely?

Elon Musk is known for his hard-headedness and willingness to raise the hackles of anyone he comes across. Musk has been known to tease and mock regulators and world leaders and often walks a fine line in his actions, resulting in authorities sometimes taking a hard line against him. Despite facing criticism and pushback, Musk has remained defiant and unapologetic in his approach, seemingly undeterred by the potential consequences.

But until now, Musk’s actions haven’t yet got one of his apps outright banned from a country. However, that could soon change.

Musk and authorities in Australia are embroiled in an argument over content hosted on the app of a stabbing at an Australian church. Earlier in April, an attacker entered a church in Wakeley, Australia, and began stabbing victims. Footage of the attack has been reposted on X, where it’s been viewed millions of times, sparking outrage and concern over the graphic nature of the content.

Disputes over decisions

The controversy begins over what to do with the footage. Australia’s eSafety commissioner, which regulates safety on the internet under the jurisdiction of the country’s Online Safety Act, asked Musk’s platform to take down footage of the incident. Their concerns focused around the graphic nature of the content, which shows the attack largely in full.

The eSafety commissioner’s demand was supported by a subsequent court order by Australia’s federal court, which demanded X remove 65 videos of the attack to stop it from spreading globally. The court was acting on a request by Australia’s federal police, who said they worried the existence of the video could encourage others to launch copycat attacks or join a terrorist organization.

X has said it believes it has complied with the court order, although videos of the attack still circulate on social media. And, in an example of Musk being willing to raise the hackles of regulatory bodies, X said in a statement that it believed the videos ought not to have been removed – even if it did so.

Harmful or not?

The “content within the posts does not encourage or provoke violence and fits within the Australian legislation’s category that permits content that can be reasonably considered as part of public discussion or debate,” the company claimed. And Musk himself went even further, tweeting his concern that Australia was trying to set global rules far outside its jurisdiction. "Should the eSafety Commissar … have authority over all the countries on Earth?" he asked.

Regardless of what Musk and X think, the decision that the eSafety commissioner has given is legal and binding in Australia – and ignoring it could have huge ramifications for Musk’s app in the country.

The Online Safety Act has provisions within it that say if "one or more removal notices … were not complied with" over a year, the eSafety Commissioner can demand apps or services be banned from the country. What would happen in that instance is that the Australian authorities would send a notice to app store providers like Google and Apple requiring that they remove X.

Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has suggested that he is willing to take the fight to Musk, calling the entrepreneur an “arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency.”

Such descriptions suggest that Australian politicians aren’t willing to let Musk run roughshod over their regulations – and could mean that unless one side of the other backs down, a ban could well be on the cards.


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