X, Meta put on blast by government in wake of Sydney Bondi Junction stabbing attacks

Social media giants have been ordered to take down violent footage and threatened with multi-million-dollar fines as leaders grapple with a surge in misinformation and harmful content online.

Leaders have issued stern warnings to social media platforms who they said have aided in the rapid circulation of false information and violent footage spread in the aftermath of two major stabbing attacks in NSW.

Six people were killed when Queensland man Joel Cauchi carried out a knife attack in Westfield Bondi Junction on Saturday, and a Sydney church leader is recovering in hospital after he was stabbed mid-service on Monday night, with the attack captured on livestream.

Hours after each incident, both graphic footage of the events and conspiracy theories as to who was responsible began to circulate widely on social media.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said both Meta-owned Facebook and X have been directed to remove violent footage of Saturday’s massacre and the western Sydney church stabbing off of their platforms

She reprised her vow to grant the media watchdog new powers to fine companies millions of dollars if they fail to remove disinformation and harmful content off their platforms, which are expected to be introduced in new safety laws later this year.

“Social media has revolutionised the way people connect but it has also become a vector for serious harms, including to spread dangerous misinformation spread at scale and speed that threatens safety, undermines democracy and sows division within the community,” Ms Rowland said.

“This is a problem with real world consequences. When false, misleading or deceptive information spreads like wildfire on social media, the outcomes can be disastrous, particularly when these same platforms undermine journalistic content.”

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said 17 complaints about radio and television coverage have been made since the massacre in Bondi on Saturday.

At least 5 complaints were made in the 48 hours after the attack, which killed six and left multiple people critically injured, after a major news outlet wrongly named the perpetrator as a 20-year-old Sydney university student in its reporting of the incident.

The incorrect name had been circulating widely on social media before it was reported on Seven, and before police confirmed it was a completely different person responsible for the attack.

Opposition communications spokesman David Coleman said companies such as X and Meta should face the “full force of the law” if they refuse to take down distressing or misleading posts on their platforms.

“I’m especially worried about the impact on our kids with this graphic material being spread online,” Mr Coleman said.

Mr Coleman added the Coalition would be “constructive” if the government proposed additional powers for the eSafety Commissioner under the Online Safety Act in its online safety overhaul.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government was prepared to take “whatever action is necessary” to haul social media companies into line.

“Media companies, including social media companies, have a responsibility to act,” Mr Albanese said.

“It shouldn’t need the e-safety commissioner to intervene to take down violent videos that show people who have lost their lives.”