Australian judge extends ban on X sharing video of Sydney bishop’s stabbing

FILE - The opening page of X is displayed on a computer and phone in Sydney on Oct. 16, 2023. An Australian judge on Friday, May 10, 2024, extended a ban on X Corp. sharing videos of an alleged teenage terrorist stabbing a Sydney bishop last month, government lawyers call the social media platform's free speech argument illusory. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
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Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — An Australian judge on Friday extended a ban on X allowing videos of the stabbing of a Sydney bishop in his church last month after government lawyers condemned the social media company’s free speech argument for keeping the graphic images circulating.

Australian Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Kennett extended his order that X Corp., the company rebranded by billionaire Elon Musk when he bought Twitter last year, block users from sharing videos of the April 15 attack.

The attack led to terrorism-related charges for the alleged attacker, a teenager, and triggered a riot outside the church.

The order has existed since April 22 and Kennett will decide on Monday whether it will continue in its current form.

X is alone among social media platforms in fighting a notice from Australia’s eSafety Commission, which describes itself as the world’s first government agency dedicated to keeping people safer online, to take down the video of the attack during an Assyrian Orthodox service streamed online.

A bishop and priest were injured but both survived.

Musk has accused Australia of censorship and has applied to the Federal Court to overturn the eSafety notice. The court will sit on Wednesday to consider setting a hearing date for X’s application.

X has geoblocked Australian users from the content, but eSafety argues the video can be still accessed from Australia through Virtual Private Networks.

VPNs are services that allow users to access sites in other countries that are blocked in their own nation. The regulator wants a worldwide ban on the video.

An eSafety lawyer, Tim Begbie, described X in court on Friday as a “market leader in proliferating and distributing violent content and violent and extremist material.”

Begbie said Australia could not be expected to conform to X’s “pro-free speech stance.”

“The fact is that that stance is in large measure illusory. Because X doesn’t stand for ‘global removal is bad’ in some pure sense,” Begbie said.

X’s own policies repeatedly refer to circumstances in which the platform will elect to remove content globally, Begbie said.

“The real position is this: X says that ‘reasonable’ means what X wants it to mean,” Begbie said.

“Global removal is reasonable when X does it because X wants to do it. But it becomes unreasonable when X is told to do it by the laws of Australia,” Begbie added.

X lawyer Bret Walker said X had taken reasonable steps to block the content from Australia but said there had been glitches.

He described eSafety’s demand for a global ban as astonishing and the notice as invalid.

“You don’t expect to see statutes saying the Australian Parliament will regulate what concerning Australia — that is events in Australia — can be viewed in Russia, Finland, Belgium or the United States,” Walker said.

“Not unless we want to become isolationist to a degree that is unthinkable,” Walker added.