Albanese joins Australia’s war of words against Musk over response to Wakeley church stabbing videos on X

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Elon Musk has been slammed for refusing to remove terrorist and violent extremist material from X.
Elon Musk has been slammed for refusing to remove terrorist and violent extremist material from X. Credit: AP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has weighed in on his government’s war of words with Elon Musk, after a number of his senior ministers blasted the “egotistical billionaire” for defying orders to remove footage of the Wakeley church stabbing from X.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant issued legal notices to Google, Meta, Twitter/X, WhatsApp, Telegram and Reddit to report on how they are protecting Australian users from terrorist and violent extremist material on their platforms.

In response to the order by the watchdog, Musk branded Ms Grant “the Australian censorship commissar” while sharing his company’s global government affairs section’s statement saying posts that commented on the attack against the Assyrian Christian bishop “did not violate X’s rules on violent speech”.

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Mr Albanese said it is “extraordinary” that X, formerly known as Twitter, defied the order and rejected its defence that the platform was upholding free speech.

“We need to recognise that, and social media has a responsibility. By and large, people responded appropriately to the calls by the eSafety Commission. X chose not to. I find it extraordinary X chose not to comply, and are trying to argue their case,” he told reporters in Mackay.

The PM said the pain of the two major stabbing incidents in Sydney — at Wakeley and days prior at Westfield Bondi Junction — was “exacerbated by what occurred on social media”.

“We know, I think overwhelmingly, Australians want misinformation and disinformation to stop,” he said.

“This isn’t about freedom of expression. This is about the dangerous implications that can occur when things that are simply not true, that everyone knows is not true, are replicated and weaponised in order to cause division, and in this case, to promote negative statements.”

The Labor leaders’ comments come after Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek fired off at Musk’s response to the eSafety Commission during her appearance on Sunrise on Monday morning.

“It beggars belief, doesn’t it, that this egotistical billionaire thinks it is more important for him to show whatever he wants on X — or Twitter or whatever he wants to call it today,” she said.

“It is more important for him to have his way than to respect the victims of the crimes that are being shown on social media, and to protect our Australian community from the harmful impact of showing this terrible stuff on social media.”

Minister for Environment Tanya Plibersek during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, October 19, 2023. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Tanya Plibersek has joined the chorus of politicians firing off about the ‘egotistical billionaire’. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAPImage

Ms Plibersek said the government had “quadrupled the budget” for the eSafety Commissioner and welcomed the Coalition’s verbal confirmation they will support a “misinformation and disinformation bill” that Labor has promised in the wake of the terror attack.

“We need to keep Australians safe from this terrible stuff on social media. And Elon Musk doesn’t dictate to the Australian Government what we are doing here with our laws.”

Ms Plibersek’s fiery words echo a sentiment from fellow cabinet minister Murray Watt, who told Sky News he thought the Australian public has “had a gutful of these narcissistic billionaires who think they are above the law”.

“They’re thumbing their nose at the laws that we have in place. And I think it’s entirely fair that we go after them,” he said.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones called the social media giant’s action “immoral”.

“At the moment they’re just spooning and being indignant to the lawful request of the eSafety Commissioner and that’s not good enough,” he told ABC radio.

“Whether it’s X, whether it’s Meta, Facebook, they have to understand that they’re not a sovereign state.”

Musk says posts that commented on the attack against the Assyrian Christian bishop ‘did not violate X’s rules on violent speech’.
Musk says posts that commented on the attack against the Assyrian Christian bishop ‘did not violate X’s rules on violent speech’. Credit: X formerly Twitter

Senior Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham backed the push for stronger action against social media giants to force the take down of harmful content.

The use of social media advanced algorithms and technology to quickly target users meant platforms should be able to “quickly and effectively remove content that is damaging and devastating to the social harmony and fabric of society”.

“Particularly images such as terrorist attacks,” Senator Birmingham told ABC TV.

“We should expect that, we should demand it and we will certainly back the government to put in place the types of powers or penalties that make social media companies pay attention.”

He also rejected claims about censorship.

It was an “insulting and offensive argument” to say the removal of imagery of a terrorist attack was censorship and it should be left unfiltered for children and others to see, Senator Birmingham said.

“It’s a completely ridiculous and preposterous argument,” he said.

There was also the potential images could be used to inspire future terrorists, create disharmony and be manipulated for propaganda, he added.

Labor has promised to “go after” platforms that disregard community safety by introducing new laws to combat the spread of violent or extremist content, as well as online misinformation and disinformation to Parliament before the end of the year.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton indicated these may attract bipartisan support if they strike the right balance with allowing democratic free speech.

He told the ABC the law should apply “equally in the real world as it does online”, and affirmed that the Coalition would support “any effort from the government” to strengthen, add to help “enforce” the Online Safety Act.

Mr Dutton said it was clear from Musk’s comments and the actions of other social media companies that tech giants “see themselves as above the law”.

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— with AAP

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