Facebook Can be Commanded To Remove Posts Worldwide.
Hosting providers such as Facebook can be commanded to remove remarks identical or equivalent to ones already deemed illegal, the EU’s top court says. And the ruling has worldwide implications.
Platforms may also have to seek out similar examples of the illegal content and remove them, instead of waiting for each to be reported.
One expert said it was a significant ruling with global implications.
Facebook said the judgement raised “critical questions around freedom of expression”.
The European Court of Justice said any order given to a host provider to do so could also be effective worldwide “within the framework of the relevant international law,” which ECJ member states should take into account.
The case stems from a suit brought by Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, the former leader and current parliamentary chair of the Austrian Green party, against Facebook Ireland.
Glawischnig-Piesczek was seeking an order that Facebook Ireland remove not only an insulting comment published by a user but also identical or equivalent content, and to have the injunction extended worldwide.
Under EU law, Facebook and other platforms are not held responsible for illegal content posted by users, until they have been made aware of it – at which point, they must remove it quickly.
But it was unclear whether an EU directive, saying platforms cannot be made to monitor all posts or actively seek out illegal activity, could be overridden by a court order.
Austria’s Supreme Court asked Europe’s highest court to clarify this.
- If an EU country finds a post illegal in its courts, it can order websites and apps to take down identical copies of the post
- Platforms can be ordered to take down “equivalent” versions of an illegal post, if the message conveyed is “essentially unchanged”
- Platforms can be ordered to take down illegal posts worldwide, if there is a relevant international law or treaty
Facebook is unable to appeal against this ruling.
Facebook has said countries would have to “set out very clear definitions on what ‘identical’ and ‘equivalent’ means in practice”.
It said the ruling “undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country”.
However, platforms can be compelled to take down posts worldwide within the framework of relevant international laws only.