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Australia fires another shot in cyber war with social media

The eSafety Commissioner has issued more takedown notices to sites spreading the video of a violent stabbing as courtrooms become the new frontline in the war between the Australian government and social media.

The Albanese government on Friday announced a senate inquiry into social media platforms to “understand the anti-social content that undermines public safety”.

“Parliament needs to understand how social media companies dial up and down the content that supports healthy democracies,” the Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said.

“Establishing this inquiry will provide opportunity and resources for parliamentarians to closely scrutinise these companies and make recommendations on how we can make these platforms accountable for their decisions,” Rowlands said.

Senators will examine Meta, the owner of Facebook, pulling out of the News Media Bargaining Code that was negotiated during the Morrison government, and the spread of violent content on social media platforms.

The government is also investigating a trial of age verification technology for pornographic websites, but the Opposition is urging the government to include social media platforms too.

“Social media use can be immensely damaging for Australian children,” David Coleman, the Opposition’s communications spokesman, said.

“We must take action now to limit the access of children to platforms like Instagram and TikTok.”

New takedown notice

The eSafety Commissioner has also expanded its takedown notices to Gab, a niche platform known for its neo-Nazi links, ordering it to remove the stabbing video.

Andrew Torba, Gab’s founder and CEO, said the site had been threatened with a $500,000 fine if it did not remove the live-streamed footage.

“The footage of the attack at the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church that the Australian government wants us to remove is undeniably distressing to watch, as it captures the sheer brutality and senselessness of the violence that unfolded,” he said in a blog post.

“While it may be challenging for some viewers to bear witness to such a tragic event, it is crucial to recognise that this video serves a vital purpose in informing the public about the reality of this horrific incident.”

Gab has been linked to several mass killings, with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter in October 2018 extensively posting radicalised content on the platform.

Anti-Semitic, racist and abusive content is posted on the platform without moderation.

Torba believes there is an ongoing genocide against white people in the Western world and is known for fraternising with other Christian nationalists like Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust denier who was banned from most social media platforms after advocating for genocide against Jewish people.

Elon Musk recently re-instated Fuentes’s suspended X account on the platform he bought in 2022.

Musk vs Australia

An Australian court heard on Friday that X’s own policies allows the platform to take down posts globally and it had done so in the past.

X, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, is attempting to challenge a takedown notice from the eSafety Commissioner to remove a video of a Sydney-based bishop being stabbed during a live-streamed service on April 15.

Elon Musk and X are legally challenging a takedown notice for violent content on the platform. Photo: AP

The commissioner’s lawyer said that X’s “stance is in large measure illusory”.

“Global removal is reasonable when X does it because X wants to do it,” he said.

“It becomes unreasonable when X is told to do it by the laws of Australia.”

X’s lawyers are seeking to block any further injunctions, claiming all reasonable steps had already been taken to remove the video.

Musk has previously said it is free speech to have the video on his platform.

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