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Updated May 13, 2024, 11:40am EDT
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Elon Musk’s X’s legal fights highlight the tensions around his vision of free speech

Insights from The Sydney Morning Herald, The New York Times, and The Washington Post

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Elon Musk
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Elon Musk’s social media platform X won a court reprieve in Australia after a judge declined to extend an order banning 65 posts with videos of a Sydney church stabbing from the app.

Justice Geoffrey Kennet denied a request from Australia’s online watchdog to extend an injunction to hide the posts, which the government ordered be removed for all X users, and not just those in Australia. The next hearing in the case will be held on Wednesday, while a final hearing is expected in mid-June.

Musk has maintained that removing the posts for all users everywhere amounts to censorship. “Our concern is that if ANY country is allowed to censor content for ALL countries, which is what the Australian ‘eSafety Commissar’ is demanding, then what is to stop any country from controlling the entire Internet?” Musk wrote on X.

Other countries, including Brazil and India, have also made requests to X to hide or take down content they consider illegal or harmful — some of which Musk has fought in court.

A self-described free-speech absolutist, Musk’s X has complied with other governments’ orders to hide content for users in their countries, including in India, where he complied with the government’s ask to hide links related to a BBC documentary about India’s President Narendra Modi and his links to Hindu extremism.

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Australia says video is a terror threat, but X pushes back

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Sources:  
The Sydney Morning Herald, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian

An Australian senator said in April that police feared Musk’s decision to leave the stabbing video accessible on X could have a radicalizing effect. Senator Jacqui Lambie said that police had told the court that “the video could be used to encourage people in Australia to join a terrorist organization or undertake a terrorist act.” X’s lawyers disagreed, asserting that the video was not overly graphic and did not meet the legal threshold for a ban by authorities. The pushback highlights the differences in how X defines acceptable speech compared to other social platforms. Meta, which was also ordered to remove the videos from its social media platforms, swiftly complied and said it is cooperating fully with Australian authorities, for example.

Musk reinvigorates Brazil’s right after clash with Brazil’s Supreme Court

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Sources:  
The New York Times, The Washington Post

Elsewhere, Musk is engaged in a high-profile clash with Brazil’s Supreme Court, which demanded X block more than 100 user accounts it deemed harmful. Musk has repeatedly attacked the judge in the case, Alexandre de Moraes, who has a reputation for taking an activist stance on curbing disinformation. Musk called the Supreme Court judge a “brutal dictator,” a “shame,” and “Brazil’s Darth Vader,” while Moraes accused Musk of waging a disinformation campaign. Musk’s fight has given renewed momentum to Brazil’s right-wing politics. “With a few tweets, Elon Musk was capable of changing the political environment in Brazil,” Ronaldo Lemos, a Brazilian internet lawyer, told The New York Times, “he brought the energy back”even as the right has faltered in recent years.

Musk courts right-wing politicians across the globe

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Source:  
The New York Times

Musk has increasingly turned his attention toward right-wing leaders, including Javier Milei, Xi Jinping, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Italy’s Georgia Meloni, a New York Times investigation found. The charm offensive has benefited Musk’s companies, with Milei cutting red-tape for his rocket company, SpaceX, and preparing incentives for mining projects, which could guarantee Musk’s EV company, Tesla, stable access to lithium to make its car batteries for decades to come. In India, his frequent compliments of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and X’s compliance with orders to block criticism of Modi’s government have been rewarded with a big cut in import duties for Tesla’s cars.

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