Politicians lash ‘narcissistic billionaires’ who see their social media companies as above the law

Headshot of Katina Curtis
Katina Curtis
The Nightly
3 Min Read
National eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant issued legal notices to Google, Meta, Twitter/X, WhatsApp, Telegram and Reddit.
National eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant issued legal notices to Google, Meta, Twitter/X, WhatsApp, Telegram and Reddit. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

Australians are fed up with the “narcissistic billionaires” behind social media companies thinking they are above the law, senior politicians have declared amid a stoush with Elon Musk’s X over orders to remove videos of the stabbing attack in a Sydney church.

The Government will bring laws to combat the spread of 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.

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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.

Mr Musk responded by publicly branding her “the Australian censorship commissar” while his company’s global government affairs section issued a statement saying posts that commented on the attack against the Assyrian Christian bishop “did not violate X’s rules on violent speech”.

Cabinet minister Murray Watt said it appeared Mr Musk didn’t seem to think he owed any obligation to the public.

“Quite frankly, I think the public’s had a gutful of these narcissistic billionaires who think they are above the law,” Senator Watt told Sky News.

“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.”

Shadow communications minister David Coleman told The Nightly it was an absolute disgrace the social media companies had to be told to remove the material instead of doing so proactively.

“The commissioner is 100 per cent right to use all powers at her disposal to protect Australians,” he said.

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

He dismissed the argument from X that Australian laws could not reach beyond the country’s borders, saying that was a red herring because the content at issue here had been broadcast within the country.

“They ... turnover billions of dollars worth of revenue in the Australian economy and I think what they’re worried about is the flow-on to other markets if Australia’s laws are upheld,” he told ABC’s Insiders.

“And that’s all the more reason, I think, for us to take a stance.”

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is preparing a second draft of misinformation laws that aim to give watchdog ACMA powers to enforce what is currently a voluntary code of conduct — and one Twitter was booted out of last year.

“Holding social media companies accountable for seriously harmful misinformation and disinformation on their platforms has never been more important,” she said.

“The Government welcomes the mature and constructive engagement we’ve had with key stakeholders during consultation on the bill, which we’re working to refine before its introduction into Parliament this year.”

A first draft was put out for consultation last year and drew strong criticism from legal experts and civil liberties groups, along with the Coalition which mounted a “bin the bill” campaign.

Mr Dutton said on Sunday his party was now prepared to back changes.

“We are, and happy to have a look at anything the government puts forward, as we’ve said over the last week with the horrendous scenes that we’ve seen,” he said.

“We need to get the right balance. That is, we don’t want to impinge on your ability to express a view in a democracy.”

Mr Coleman said the Opposition would carefully consider the revised bill to see if it dealt with concerns about “its very clear impact on legitimate political speech”.

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