Australian court says X has to obey state laws

Elon Musk has suffered another legal defeat in Australia after his social media company X argued it should not be subject to local anti-discrimination laws.

May 24, 2024, updated May 24, 2024
Photo: Monika Skolimowska/DPA

Photo: Monika Skolimowska/DPA

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled X – formerly known as Twitter – has to answer to the state’s laws despite being based in America.

The Australian Muslim rights group behind the complaint is hailing the ruling as “precedent-setting”, saying it ensures social media companies must be held accountable for locally-accessible content that breaches hate speech laws.

It stems from a complaint made by the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network, alleging Musk’s X should be responsible for posts on its site vilifying Muslims because it is a publisher.

Queensland’s human rights commissioner referred the matter to the tribunal last year, where X argued it was not a resident of the state and the conduct take place there.

But Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal senior member Ann Fitzpatrick dismissed that argument in a ruling this week.

“X Corp is present in Queensland, because it provides a service in Queensland and in my view carries on business in Queensland,” her ruling read.

“Second, the impugned conduct took place in Queensland whether one terms the impugned conduct an “effect” or actual conduct.”

Australian Muslim Advocacy Network’s complaint includes 29 tweets it says “denigrates, dehumanises, and demonises Muslims, portraying them as an existential threat”.

The content originated from a far-right conspiracy blog, which was subsequently posted on X.

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“This is the first such legal victory against a social media company under Australian vilification laws, which will have consequences for all social media companies operating in Australia,” an advocacy network spokesperson said in a statement.

“Protections in Australia do apply to social media companies, and hate speech is governed by clear standards, not corporate discretion.”

Queensland’s human rights commissioner was satisfied the complaint included religious vilification before referring the matter to the tribunal.

The 29 tweets include disparaged comments about Labor Senator Fatima Payman, the first hijab-wearing elected representative in the federal parliament.

The tribunal said it will issue directions into how the matter proceeds from here.

It isn’t Musk’s first Australian court battle.

In April the Federal court ordered 65 websites – including X – to remove footage of an alleged terror attack where Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed.

Musk defied the ruling and kept the content visible, before the court refused to extend the temporary injunction earlier this month.

X, which has been contacted for comment, could still appeal the tribunal decision.


Topics: Elon Musk
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