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X should answer to Queensland authorities over Islamophobic tweets by an American, tribunal hears

Queensland authorities should be able to hold X responsible for the Islamophobic tweets of an American white supremacist because they were downloaded in the state and caused harm to local Muslims, a tribunal has heard.

The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (Aman) lodged a complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission last June seeking to hold X, then known as Twitter, responsible for content posted by a far-right account that was referenced in the manifesto of the extremist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

At a hearing before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Tuesday, lawyers for Aman and X argued whether Queensland authorities had legal jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

Aman’s lawyer, Ron Merkel, argued that limiting section 124A of the Anti-Discrimination Act to physical conduct in Queensland by residents or corporations “would emasculate the section, and nothing could be more defeating from its purpose … to protect Queenslanders from that communication.”

Merkel argued the tweets were downloaded in Queensland, had caused harm to local Muslims and that X was provided with all relevant documents constituting the proceeding under the state’s legislation.

“I would really like to plant the seed that the courts are not powerless to restrain illegal conduct that is occurring in Australia,” he said.

Lawyer for X, Nicholas Owens, argued the complaint was “completely misconceived” as the company is a “true foreign entity” and has no responsibility for anti-Islamophobia tweets under Queensland legislation.

“X Corp is a true foreign corporation with no presence in Australia. [If Aman is successful], that would give Qcat the widest jurisdiction of any entity in Australia and possibly the world,” Owens said.

“It’s not enough to say there’s an effect in Queensland. It’s clear X Corp is not a person in Queensland [under the legislation].”

The tribunal heard Twitter Australia no longer has operations in the country but did at the time of the complaint.

Owens said the main author of the content was from the United States, so there is no “basis” on which the tweets should be subject to the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

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A corporation like X “cannot be expected to know the content of something that’s uploaded somewhere in the world”, according to Owens.

“It’s a foreign author … it’s only being downloaded [by] someone in Queensland if they’ve sent a request to Twitter to have a look at the website,” he said.

“[If this argument is right], this is Queensland controlling what the rest of the world does on the internet … because if Queensland removes the content … the rest of the world can’t see it.

“It would have massive international consequences and [would] subject a very, very large number of companies around the world to the jurisdiction of Qcat.”

Twitter previously lost a bid to have Aman’s complaint thrown out in March.

Aman originally demanded an apology from Twitter for the “dehumanising” content which included a reply that the Qur’an should be referred to as the “terrorist handbook”.

It said the tweets incited hatred and vilification under the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act but despite multiple requests, Twitter refused to delete the account and offensive replies to its content.

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