Australia’s eSafety Commissioner and staff members face online abuse and threats following move to censor Christian church stabbing footage

The Australian eSafety office, which is responsible for regulating online content in the country, has been targeted with threats and online abuse after it instructed social media companies to remove footage of a Christian church stabbing. The incident occurred on April 15, during a live-streamed church service, when a teenager approached Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and attacked him with a knife. The eSafety office said the footage was “gratuitous or offensive violence with a high degree of impact or detail” and requested that social media companies remove it. Meta and some other companies complied with the request, but one company, referred to as X, only geo-blocked the footage from Australian users, claiming that the demand for its removal worldwide was unreasonable.

Leaders of the eSafety office have reported that they received threats after the court case was filed, highlighting their concerns about the safety of their staff and families. The matter is now being investigated by the Australian Federal Police and New South Wales Police Force to ensure that the safety of the officers is protected.

Several eSafety officers’ names were discussed during hearings, prompting the eSafety office lawyer, Mr Dagg, to request for their names to be shielded from public record. He cited concerns about their safety and wellbeing as well as that of their family members.

At the court hearing, it was also pointed out that a global ban on the video would violate the principle of “comity of nations” as other countries might not acknowledge the laws or regulations of another country. Therefore, the request to remove the video worldwide was deemed impractical.

Bishop Mar Emmanuel, the victim of the stabbing, has also weighed in on the situation, expressing his support for X and the freedom of speech and religion. In an affidavit submitted to the court, the bishop argued that Australians have a “God-given right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.” He was also concerned that the situation could be used to further a political agenda and undermine free speech.

The ongoing court case is expected to be settled in a two-day hearing, beginning on July 24. It will seek to resolve the outstanding legal issues regarding the removal of the video and whether the eSafety office has exceeded its authority in its demands.

This incident highlights the complex nature of regulating online content and the associated challenges of balancing free speech with the potential harm caused by extreme or violent content. The eSafety office has faced criticism from some quarters about its methods, but there is no doubt that its work is critical to ensure that vulnerable people, especially children, are protected from online harm. The case will set an important precedent for online content regulation in Australia and globally as well


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