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Elon Musk vs Australia: global content take-down orders can harm the internet if adopted widely

Technology / opinion
Elon Musk vs Australia: global content take-down orders can harm the internet if adopted widely
Tesla and SpaceX chief executive officer Elon Musk.
The 'Dogefather', Elon Musk, is an avid Twitter user.

Do Australian courts have the right to decide what foreign citizens, located overseas, view online on a foreign-owned platform?

Anyone inclined to answer “yes” to this question should perhaps also ask themselves whether they are equally happy for courts in China, Russia and Iran to determine what Australians can see and post online in Australia.

This is the problem with global “take-down orders”, an issue we now must confront in light of the Australian eSafety commissioner demanding that social media platform X (formerly Twitter) remove videos of a violent stabbing at a church in Sydney.

X agreed to prevent access to the content in Australia. However, at an urgent federal court hearing late Monday, the commissioner demanded a full removal, with an interim measure of blocking the posts globally.

Do global take-down orders work?

There can be no doubt that a global take-down order can be justified in some instances. For example, child abuse materials and so-called revenge porn are clear examples of content that should be removed with global effect.

But it is far too simplistic to seek to justify a global take-down order just by saying that any platform operating in Australia must comply with Australian law, as shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said in a Sky News interview this morning.

After all, international law imposes limitations on what demands Australian law can place on foreigners acting outside Australia.

It is also too simplistic to just focus on efficiency, as was done in the context of so-called geo-blocking – the use of geo-location technologies to block users from a specific location. Attempts to block online piracy sites, for example, have famously been ineffective.

Of course, a court order requiring X to take down certain content globally is more effective than a court order requiring X to geo-block such content so that users in Australia cannot access it.

But that efficiency argument applies equally to Iran’s draconian blasphemy laws or the Chinese laws that make it an offence to compare Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh.

Even if X removed the content on a global basis, those Australians who are hell-bent on viewing the footage in question would be able to find it somewhere else online. In other words, there is no realistic way to fully ensure the content cannot be accessed at all.

Ordering X to use geo-location technologies to block Australians from viewing the content would be sufficient to prevent the general Australian public from coming into contact with the video. Doing so would also show respect for the fact that different countries have different laws.

An unusually poor ‘test case’ for free speech

Elon Musk, the American billionaire owner of X, has chosen to approach the matter as a fight for free speech in the face of “censorship”. Such a move would no doubt gain support among the conspiracy theorists and online trolls in his audience. But for the broader Australian public, this must appear like an odd occasion to fight for free speech.

There can sometimes be real tension between free speech and the suppression of violent imagery. For example, some news reporting from military conflicts may be deemed too graphic by some, while others view it as a necessary tool to illustrate the level of violence being committed.

Here, there are no such complex considerations. There is simply no arguable value in keeping the videos online. Consequently, while removing the content can be described as censorship, it is hard to understand why anyone would object to this censorship.

After all, not even the staunchest free speech advocates would be able to credibly object to all censorship. (For example, consider the publication of child abuse materials or Musk’s credit card details.)

The path forward

In the end, we must recognise the internet is a shared resource. All countries, including Australia, should be very careful in how they apply their laws where it can have a “spill-over” effect impacting people in other countries.

Global take-down orders are justifiable in some situations, but cannot be the default position for all content that violates some law somewhere in the world. If we had to comply with all content laws worldwide, the internet would no longer be as valuable as it is today.

We must also start being more proactive in how we regulate the internet. Rushed reactive lawmaking rarely leads to good long-term outcomes. This is a field in which we need international cooperation – this will take time.

Finally, the platforms must act maturely. While other platforms responded to the eSafety commissioner by swiftly blocking the content, X decided to fight for the “right” to display violent extremism in action.

The fact Musk views this as a suitable battleground for free speech shows that we have a long way to go in finding solutions to the regulation of the internet. The Conversation

Dan Jerker B. Svantesson, Professor specialising in Internet law, Bond University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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I agree the Sydney stabbing case feeIs like an odd time to fight for free speech.   

Note however global content take-down orders imposed by the EU’s Digital Services Act can also harm the internet.  No doubt most of what EU officials classify as mis-information is indeed so.  However, the potential for the suppression of inconvenient but factually correct information is also high.  As some medical professionals found when trying to debate the covid narrative.

Government censorship of public online discourse in the West’s ostensibly liberal democracies has been largely covert until now, as revealed by the Twitter Files. But thanks to the EU’s Digital Services Act, it is about to become overt.

Next month, a little-known development will occur that could end up having huge repercussions for the nature of public discourse on the Internet all over the planet. August 25, 2023 is the date by which big social media platforms will have to begin fully complying with the European Union’s Digital Services Act, or DSA. The DSA, among many other things, obliges all “Very Large Online Platforms”, or VLOPs, to speedily remove illegal content, hate speech and so-called disinformation from their platforms. If not, they risk fines of up to 6% of their annual global revenue.


The general categories of “misinformation” used exactly mirror the main areas of concern targeted by the EU in its efforts to “regulate” online speech: “medical misinfo” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, “civic misinfo” in the context of issues of electoral integrity, and “crisis misinfo” in the context of the war in Ukraine.


How about take downs of known illegal content and the incitement for targeted violence which is also illegal then. We have actual crimes and laws and these crimes literally do more harm to the public and directed victims.

Illegal scams should be taken down (even though they will claim their ponzi scheme really does return 300%, except for all those ex customers whose fault it was to not apply the scheme rules "correctly" or "hard enough" and started complaining to police & financial regulators). Every con artist will try to convince more people (who are not already victims) that they are telling the truth. But the cons do real damage to people's lives. Using your example there were tons of people selling bleach and water with aviation fuel in it as cure all tonics. These breached many laws and actually killed people (not forgetting the larger amount poisoned and impaired by it). Yet people protested against taking down these sites and accounts as against free speech and they continued to claim the medical benefits were true. If it was not so tragic and if those fooled did not go on to poison others you could almost claim those fooled by these people deserved the effects.

Like the con artists every terrorist will claim they are perpetrating violent acts against innocent for the better of their position (even though that never happens). However if the rules to inspect and take down incitement to terrorism online then the original slide to extremism & stabbing may not have occurred. X is now famously a haven for violent extremists who literally are inciting violence against innocent members of the public. It does not take long outside of the social circles searching to find it widespread against popular accounts.

You may think you can detect obvious falsehoods, but can a 15year old, can someone with lower education & poor mental health, can someone who is drawn into the slippery slope downwards, can your neighbours, can your older and younger family members?




To quote Professor Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford University Epidemiologist):  "The government was the primary source of misinformation during the covid19 pandemic, and the government censored dissidents and critics to hide that fact!"

Before we give our governments unlimited censorship power, perhaps we should consider what happened in the last few years?


AF Neil on fire at a Lords committee yesterday. Well worth the 2 min watch.

'Stay the hell out of it.' Andrew Neil's advice on what the government should do with the media.


Interesting.  Very much in-line with what Freddie Sayers saying in regard to the disinformation industry.  I think it might have been the same house of lords meeting?  It's good to see so much awareness that the governments are barking up the wrong tree.  In my opinion, by forcing uniformity of opinion, governments are damaging the knowledge creation engine which outputs prosperity for us all.  It's difficult to articulate that in a sound bite though.