EDITORIAL: Petulant Elon Musk must comply with our e-safety laws or get out

The Nightly
X owner and billionaire Elon Musk doesn’t like to be told what to do. That must change.
X owner and billionaire Elon Musk doesn’t like to be told what to do. That must change. Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

Egotistical. Immoral. Narcissistic.

Insulting and offensive.

Take your pick of the words used by Australian politicians to describe the actions of Elon Musk in refusing to comply with a request from Australia’s e-safety commissioner to remove footage of the Wakeley church stabbing from his social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

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It was an entirely reasonable direction. This is distressing footage that the public does not need to see.

But self-styled free speech warrior Musk doesn’t like to be told what to do.

So, he lashed out like the petulant bully he is, referring to e-safety Commissioner July Inman Grant as “the Australian censorship commissar” in the process.

It was a response typical of Musk, who is rapidly turning himself into a cartoon villain.

He doesn’t think the laws apply to him, let alone the laws of a country like Australia.

He thinks he can thumb his nose at us and face no consequences.

This time, he was proven wrong, with the Federal Court agreeing to an interim injunction forcing X to comply with the order.

X has form in thinking its above the law

Last year, the commission sought information from X about how it was meeting its requirements in relation to stopping the spread of child exploitation and abuse material.

X chose not to comply. To some questions, it didn’t respond at all. To others, it supplied information that was incomplete or incorrect.

A fine of $610,500 was issued to X.

And, predictably, that fine has not been paid.

Musk and other big tech giants seem to think the internet is a lawless playground. It is not.

If they want to operate in Australia, and profit off Australians, they need to comply with our laws.

Ironically, Musk’s latest outburst may be exactly what the Australian Government needs to gather support for its crackdown on tech giants.

The Government plans to introduce a new misinformation Bill to Parliament this year. The bill would expose social media platforms to massive fines of $6.88 million, or 5 per cent of their global turnover — whichever is higher.

That Bill had faced some opposition from legal and human rights experts, who raised concerns that it could curtail free speech.

But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton now says the Bill, which aims to combat the spread of violent and extremist content, as well as misinformation, could attract bipartisan support if it struck the right balance.

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

He 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”.

That must change.

The Government says it will fight any legal challenges from X to the takedown notice.

In this, it will have the support of all right-minded Australians.

This isn’t just about the law. It’s about decency. And as Musk and those like him may soon discover, Australians have firm ideas about what is decent and what is not.

Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by The Nightly Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie.


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