Ruling comes as EU mulls bloc-wide hate speech rules based on German laws
The European Union’s top court ruled on Thursday that its member states can order Facebook to remove ‘illegal’ or ‘defamatory’ posts and comments worldwide. Any content found objectionable by a national court belonging to the 28-member bloc can be deleted from the world’s largest social network, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg said.
The measure will not be restricted to specific statements deemed undesirable by a European court but will also apply to similar content elsewhere on Facebook. The social media platform will be obliged to “remove identical and, in certain circumstances, equivalent comments previously declared to be illegal,” the ECJ said in a statement. “In addition, EU law does not preclude such an injunction from producing effects worldwide, within the framework of the relevant international law,” the court added.
The court’s judgement was in response to the case filed by Austria’s Green Party politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, after she was called a ‘lousy traitor’ and a member of a ‘fascist party’ in response to her demands for welfare payments to asylum seekers, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported. Glawischnig-Piesczek was offended by these and similar comments attacking her views on immigration and sought legal recourse after Facebook initially refused to delete them.
Facebook plans to appeal the court’s ruling. “This is something I expect us and other companies will be litigating.” company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in response to the verdict.
Reuters reported the top EU court’s judgment:
Facebook can be ordered to police and remove illegal content worldwide, Europe’s top court said on Thursday, in a landmark ruling that rights activists say raises concerns some countries could use it to silence critics.
The judgment means social platforms can be forced to seek out hateful content deemed illegal by a national court in the 28-country bloc rather than wait for requests to remove posts as it currently does under EU rules.
Facebook and other platforms can also be made to comply with requests to take down content globally, even in countries where it is not illegal, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled.
“EU law does not preclude a host provider like Facebook from being ordered to remove identical and, in certain circumstances, equivalent comments previously declared to be illegal,” the Court said in a statement.
“In addition, EU law does not preclude such an injunction from producing effects worldwide, within the framework of the relevant international law.”
European mainstream media cheered the verdict and demanded tougher action against ‘hate speech.’ “Facebook must search and delete,” German State broadcaster ARD demanded.
“Ugly posts, tweets and comments manage to bypass judicial orders and find their way into the veins of digital communication,” Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung complained. “Now the European Court of Justice has ruled that the legal protection needs to be water tight, at least a bit.”
Facebook “makes it difficult for the affected persons to defend themselves against insults. The European Court of Justice has now strengthened the rights of the users,” German weekly Der Spiegel declared.
The ruling “extends the reach of the region’s internet-related laws beyond its own borders,” The New York Times noted.
Thursday’s ruling is part of the EU’s efforts to suppress dissent on social media, particularly criticism of its open border immigration policy. The new EU-wide legal framework will be based on the German online ‘anti-hate speech’ laws approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in two year ago. “EU officials have been mulling new bloc-wide rules, building on existing legislation in Germany, that could hit big tech firms with possible fines if they fail to remove illegal hate speech quickly enough,” Bloomberg confirmed.
According to Germany’s Network Enforcement Law, popularly known by its sinister sounding acronym NetzDG, social media platforms can be force to delete “potentially illegal content.” Facebook, Twitter, and Google can face fines up to €50 million, or $60 million, for failing to remove content within the prescribed time. Germany has launched hundreds of probes this year, targeting Facebook users for posting supposedly hateful comments about immigrants.
[Cover image via YouTube]
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