European Judges Can Force Facebook to Remove Comments from Users...Worldwide

European Judges Can Force Facebook to Remove Comments from Users Worldwide
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Date: 04 – October – 2019

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Case resolution: Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek against Facebook Ireland.

The European Court of Justice ruled that courts in the European Union have the power to order Facebook to remove users’ comments declared to be illegal, and the service provider [in this case Facebook] must remove the information or block access to that information worldwide.

This resolution comes as the Court’s decision in the case of the politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, who sued Facebook Ireland in the Austrian courts, in a bid to remove a comment posted by a user on his personal Facebook page, because she believed was harmful to her reputation.

The user shared an article from the Austrian online news magazine oe24.at entitled ‘Greens: Minimum income for refugees should stay’ on the politician,  the post shown the title and a brief summary of the article, and a photograph of Ms Glawischnig-Piesczek, the user also published, in connection with that article, a comment which the Austrian courts found to be harmful to the reputation of the politician.

The resolution of the European Court of Justice says that: “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. In addition, EU law does not preclude such an injunction from producing effects worldwide, within the framework of the relevant international law.”

Facebook criticized the decision, saying that: This judgment raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech that might be illegal in any particular countryIt undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country. It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is “equivalent” to content that has been found to be illegal.” 

Thomas Hughes, director of  Article 19 backed Facebook, stating that “This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”