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Oz judge orders X answer to hate speech complaint

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — An Australian judge has ruled that the social media platform X is subject to a state’s anti-discrimination law even though it does not have an office in Australia.

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Judge Ann Fitzgerald said in a decision made public Friday that her court has jurisdiction over X Corp in a hate speech complaint.

The ruling allows the Queensland Human Rights Commission to hear an allegation that X breached Queensland anti-discrimination law by failing to remove or hide anti-Muslim hate speech.

The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network, which brought the case against Twitter in June 2022 before billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk bought and rebranded the platform last year, welcomed the decision as “precedent-setting.”

Fitzgerald’s decision “paved the way for social media companies to be held accountable for locally accessible content that may breach Australian hate speech laws,” the network said in a statement.

“This is the first such legal victory against a social media company under Australian vilification laws, which may bear consequences to all social media companies operating in Australia,” it said.

X and its Australia-based lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

X has refused to remove material that the network alleges denigrates, dehumanises and demonises the Muslim community, portraying Muslims as an existential threat.

The complaint deals with material including video and photos that can be accessed through a link posted on X by an alleged far-right anti-Muslim conspiracy blog authored by an American citizen. The material is then commented on, copied and shared.

The tribunal has accepted the network’s request that the blog and its principal author not be identified for fear of “adverse consequences” for Muslims.

X had argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the company because it had no presence in Queensland and the “impugned conduct” took place outside Queensland.

Fitzgerald disagreed, ruling X was “present in Queensland because it provides a service in Queensland and in my view carries on business in Queensland.”

“The impugned conduct took place in Queensland whether one terms the impugned conduct an ‘effect’ or actual conduct,” she added.

Fitzgerald made her ruling on Tuesday but lawyers did not release her reasons to the public until Friday.

Musk is also fighting in Australian Federal Court a notice by an Internet safety watchdog to take down video of a 16-year-old boy allegedly stabbing an Assyrian Orthodox bishop in a Sydney church on April 15.

X agreed to geoblock from Australian users images of what Australian authorities have declared a terrorist act.

FILE – The opening page of X is displayed on a computer and phone in Sydney on Oct. 16, 2023. PHOTO: AP
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