Tech bully Elon Musk’s big win as eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant drops court case over terror videos

Sarah Blake and Max Costorphan
The Nightly
A legal fight against a video of a stabbing on Elon Musk’s social platform X has been dropped.
A legal fight against a video of a stabbing on Elon Musk’s social platform X has been dropped. Credit: The Nightly/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Billionaire tech bully Elon Musk has struck a decisive blow in his battle with Australia’s e-Safety Commissioner, with Julie Inman Grant sensationally dropping her Federal Court fight against his social media platform X.

After several legal setbacks and receiving a series of death threats to her and her family from Musk’s online army, Ms Inman Grant on Wednesday announced she would withdraw from her fight to make X remove graphic footage of a church stabbing in Sydney.

The decision was partially based on the cost of the legal fight, she said.

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“We had a phalanx of lawyers and probably the most expensive KC in Australia so of course I have to have a prudent use of public funds,” she said.

“I’m also going to court with X Corp in five other cases. I made a strategic decision to withdraw here.”

The backdown comes as debate builds in Australia about the conduct of global social media giants, with News Corp Australia boss Michael Miller calling for new “social licence” legislation that would ban them here if they don’t “play by our rules”.

Speaking in Canberra, Mr Miller proposed a suite of new laws that would bolster the Government’s power to make the tech monopolies liable for what was published on their platforms, including policing fraud.

“Good riddance. If you don’t want to not just sign up to our values but to sign up to our laws, why would we want them here?” he said.

“It’s happened in other markets. I think Australians are innovators.

“Penalties should also be included. Penalties that incorporate criminal sanctions for companies and their executives that agree to the licence, but then break the rules.

“And the power to ultimately block access to our country and our people if they refuse to play by our rules.”

Ms Inman Grant said her Federal Court case would be dropped following several setbacks and the expiration of a temporary order to hide the footage.

“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,” Ms Inman Grant said on Wednesday.

The first-of-its-kind case was used to test Australia’s ability to enforce safety requirements online with overseas-owned social media giants.

“Through this process, eSafety has also welcomed the opportunity to test its novel regulatory powers — set out under Australia’s Online Safety Act — to protect Australians from online harm,” Ms Inman Grant said.

The eSafety Commissioner had asked X to globally remove video content of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel being stabbed during a live-streamed sermon. However, the social media giant refused.

The Federal Government later sought an injunction in April until the court determined whether the social media platform breached any laws.

X refused to comply with the court order and on Wednesday declared it welcomed the dropping of the case as a victory.

“We welcome the news that the eSafety Commissioner is no longer pursuing legal action against X seeking the global removal of content that does not violate X’s rules,” the tech company said in a statement.

“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.”

Justice Geoffrey Kennett had ruled the order that effectively required the Elon Musk-owned platform to block all users’ access to the videos was unreasonable.

“Most Australians accept this kind of graphic material should not be on broadcast television, which begs an obvious question of why it should be allowed to be distributed freely and accessibly online 24/7 to anyone, including children,” Ms Inman-Grant said on Wednesday.

“We now welcome the opportunity for a thorough and independent merits review of my decision to issue a removal notice to X Corp by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.”

Musk has continued to mock Ms Inman Grant over her request to control the content shown on X.

Ms Inman Grant previously told the ABC that Mr Musk’s personal attacks had led to doxxing and death threats.

“He issued a dog whistle to 181 million users around the globe, which resulted in death threats directed at me, which resulted in doxxing of my family members, including my three children, so I think with great power comes with great responsibility,” the commissioner said.

“Targeting a regulator who is here to protect the citizens of Australia is really beyond the pale, but it’s not surprising [from Mr Musk].”

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland acknowledged the “tireless work” of Ms Inman Grant and her commission in Parliament, saying the Government backed her, “particularly in light of the reprehensible threats to her physical safety and the threats to her family in the course of doing her job”.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who has had to contend with threats himself, condemned the personal abuse, threats and intimidation of the commissioner.

“Julie Inman Grant is one of the finest public servants in the employment of the Commonwealth of Australia,” he told Parliament.

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