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X flatlines as Elon Musk battles Australia’s eSafety Commissioner over extremist content online

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
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Activity on Elon Musk’s social media platform X flatlined in Australia as the billionaire battled the eSafety Commissioner over online extremist content.
Activity on Elon Musk’s social media platform X flatlined in Australia as the billionaire battled the eSafety Commissioner over online extremist content. Credit: NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s high-profile “free speech” battle with the eSafety Commissioner over online extremist content on his platform X has failed to bring in extra traffic for the social media giant which is suffering a year-on-year loss in numbers.

Seema Shah, vice president of insights at market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, said there had been “minimal impact” on Australian user activity between April 16 and May 11, the period in which the social media platform began its content clash with the Australia’s online watchdog.

As well, Mr Shah said activity had actually fallen 16 per cent compared to the same period last year as the platform was besieged by confronting content and tech issues since Musk purchased X, formerly known as Twitter, for US$44 billion.

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“According to Sensor Tower estimates, average mobile app DAUs (Daily Active Users) on X in Australia from April 16-May 11 were relatively flat compared to the prior thirty days, suggesting minimal impact from the eSafety Commissioner’s request for X to remove controversial content,” he said.

“On a year-over-year basis, X mobile app DAUs in Australia from April 16-May 11 were down 16 per cent as the platform has grappled with user frustration over controversial content and technical issues in the post-acquisition era.”

The new analysis comes as Indonesia confirmed Musk was travelling to Bali this weekend to launch his satellite internet service StarLink at the 10th World Water Forum alongside President Joko Widodo.

It also follows Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Kennett finding on Monday that it was unreasonable for eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant to order the worldwide removal of videos of the alleged stabbing of Assyrian bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakely on April 15.

Elon Musk (file image)
Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s high-profile “free speech” battle with the eSafety Commissioner over online extremist content on his platform X has failed to bring in extra traffic for the social media giant which is suffering a year-on-year loss in numbers. Credit: AP

Musk, worth an estimated US$180 billion, is a proponent of free speech and has presented his refusal to remove the content as a moral decision in the fight against internet censorship.

He closed a US$44 billion deal to buy Twitter in October in 2022 following a messy and chaotic acquisition period that almost ended in court, with the billionaire claiming he’d purchased the platform to “help humanity, whom I love”.

Mr Shah said Sensor Tower estimated user activity had continued to decline since Musk purchased the social media platform, falling 14 per cent on a year-by-year basis and 19 per cent since October 2022.

“X DAUs in April 2024 were down -14 per cent on a year-over-year basis and -19 per cent compared to October 2022 (when the company was acquired),” he said.

“In April 2024, Snapchat (+8 per cent), Instagram (+7 per cent), YouTube (+7 per cent), Facebook (+2 per cent) and TikTok (flat) were all ahead of X in year-on-year DAU growth.”

Musk’s refusal to remove the content risked a fine of $782,000 for every day it remained on the platform and kept him in the headlines.

The Indonesian government confirmed that Musk and Joko Widodo were attending World Water Forum, with the billionaire due to launch internet service Starlink during a special session in Nusa Dua in Bali on Sunday.

Indonesian Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan told The Bali Sun that Musk would be invited to speak at the opening of the forum, which attempts to address global water challenges.

“The President, together with Elon Musk, will launch Starlink in the hopes of facilitating communication in remote areas,” he said.

Starlink is a broadband satellite internet service that uses internet transmitted from satellites launched into orbit since 2019.

Bali is a popular destination with digital nomads and remote workers and Indonesia is preparing to improve internet connectivity infrastructure.

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