EU Court Says Facebook Is Subject to Worldwide Content Removal

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that nations can order Facebook to remove content from its platform worldwide.

Austrian politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek brought the case after Facebook rejected her calls to remove a 2016 post by a user who called her a “lousy traitor of the people.” The unnamed Facebook user posted the comments alongside a news article from the Austrian news website about Glawischnig-Piesczek’s Green Party policy on refugees. The post contained a headshot of Glawischnig-Piesczek and could be viewed worldwide.

Once an Austrian court found that the post was defamatory and ordered it taken down, Facebook removed the post, but only in Austria. An appeals court upheld the ruling, and the European Court of Justice took up the case at the request of the Austrian Supreme Court.

After oral arguments in February, the Luxembourg-based court ruled Thursday that a country can request for Facebook to remove content worldwide, if that content is found to violate national law. Further, it held that Facebook must remove duplicate or identical content if the original content is deemed illegal.

Facebook criticized the ruling. “It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country,” the company said in a statement.

EU regulators have been trying to curb the power of tech giants operating in the 28-member union.

Glawischnig-Piesczek called the ruling “a historic success for human rights against web giants.”

It was not a total loss for Facebook, however. The ruling says Facebook cannot be held liable for information on its platform, so long as it was not aware the information was illegal and that, when made aware, it removes the content “expeditiously.”

The ruling contrasts with the Luxembourg-based court’s ruling last week in favor of Google, in which the court held that the search engine did not have to remove content worldwide. The Thursday ruling does not say why the two companies are being treated differently, though the Google ruling concerned “the right to be forgotten” whereas the Facebook ruling  dealt with defamation.

The ruling cannot be appealed.

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