Opinion | Australia PM Anthony Albanese reels in Elon Musk over harmful content – time to cast net wider

But Albanese was incensed because Musk’s X – formerly known as Twitter – would not obey an Australian court order to take down videos of one of the stabbing attacks in Sydney last week. Other platforms had, according to local media.

The reprimand from Albanese and other Australian ministers was pointed and swift while Musk accused Canberra of trying to control the internet and free speech.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk was berated by Australian PM Anthony Albanese for being an “arrogant billionaire” over X’s refusal to remove videos of a stabbing attack in Sydney. Photo: TNS

“This bloke thinks he’s above everyone,” Albanese said on local TV, adding that he would not tolerate Musk lecturing Australians on free speech from the “billionaires establishments”.

Australia’s laws empower Canberra to compel online service providers to remove harmful content including violent material from their sites. It was not the first time Canberra had flexed its regulatory muscles. In 2019, Canberra asked internet service providers to block websites hosting videos of the Christchurch terrorist attacks.

These laws aim to protect Australians from sites “where people can experience abuse or be exposed to harmful content”.

There are probably few political points for Albanese to lose by going after Musk – who is based outside Australia and a divisive character – but plenty to gain with Australian voters.

Really, who does not want a PM who stands up for his country?

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The political risks seemed well-calculated. Albanese was not so forthright with, say, US President Joe Biden over the incarceration of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who exposed war crimes allegedly committed by the US, which could be argued was harmful to society and human rights if proven. Then again, Biden is not some ordinary CEO.

Since Albanese has had a practice run on easier turf, he could consider replicating his billionaire-take-down strategy.

What would it take for Albanese and friends to challenge, say, US billionaire Rupert Murdoch, whose news empire controls many media outlets in Australia and globally? News Corp has been accused of putting out harmful and untrue content on its sites in Australia such as denying climate change, using powerful commentaries to manipulate votes or destroy reputations and using shock jocks to stoke fear and division?

There is also a public call in Australia to probe into News Corp’s overwhelming dominance of the country’s media.

These behaviours are not limited to the Murdoch press but on many online and social media sites including those like Musk’s X.

At the heart of his beef with Musk, Albanese was upset that the billionaire was irresponsible and that the order for X to take down violent videos was not about freedom of speech but social responsibility.

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Australian police investigating Sydney church stabbing as terrorist act

Australian police investigating Sydney church stabbing as terrorist act

As Cybersecurity Minister Clare O’Neil alluded to this week, media platforms must not “create civil division and social unrest”.

O’Neil, who called Musk a megalomaniac, said online platforms that did not bear social responsibility caused “untold damage to mental health” and “spread terrible attitudes around the world”.

As such, sticking it to CEOs who refuse to bear social responsibility is not just about admonishing those who publish violent videos but also those who cause harm to society through more subtle forms.

Shouldn’t such rebukes also target people who vilify minorities in a society, defame others without proof and speak using dog whistles, which typically contain coded insidious messages? These actions can cause damage to social health and spread terrible attitudes.

In other words, Albanese could be a bigger hero, if he – and his fellow ministers – were to cast his net wider. Take on all divisive online content, all socially irresponsible CEOs and all the megalomaniacs.

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