EU Judge Eyes Expansion of Facebook Defamation Patrol

A computer shows Facebook ad preferences pages in San Francisco on March 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(CN) – Opening with a quotation from “The Social Network,” an EU magistrate called Tuesday for Facebook to face expanded obligations when it comes to deleting defamatory content posted by its users.

“The internet’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink,” Advocate General Maciej Szpunar wrote, with attribution to the 2010 film on Facebook’s rise written by Aaron Sorkin.

Szpunar invoked the line to frame a question now before the European Court of Justice: whether a website like Facebook “may be required to delete, with the help of a metaphorical ink eraser, certain content placed online by users of that platform.”

The case arose in April 2016 when a Facebook user included a disparaging comment about Austrian politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek while sharing a news article about welfare for refugees. 

In addition to accusing Glawischnig-Piesczek of being a “corrupt oaf” and a member of a “fascist party,” the user called her a “lousy traitor of the people.”

Glawischnig-Piesczek at the time was the chair and federal spokeswoman the Greens parliamentary party, as well as a member of Austria’s National Council.

After she took the website to court, Facebook disabled access in Austria to the user’s comment about her. Austria’s Supreme Court meanwhile has been asked to decide whether the injunction can be extended globally and to statements with identical wording, regardless of whether they have been brought to Facebook’s attention.

It asked the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice to weigh in, noting that an EU directive requires Facebook to delete illegal content once it has been made aware of its illegality.

Szpunar, whose opinion is not binding on the court, advised the court today that the law would allow for an order compelling Facebook to nail down identical content following an injunction.

Because the public interest on information access varies from one country to another, however, Szpunar said “there is a danger that [removal] will prevent persons established in states other than that of the court seised from having access to the information.”

“Therefore, in the interest of international comity, … that court should, as far as possible, limit the extraterritorial effects of its junctions concerning harm to private life and personality rights,” Szpunar wrote. “The implementation of a removal obligation should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the protection of the injured person. Thus, instead of removing the content, that court might, in an appropriate case, order that access to that information be disabled with the help of geo-blocking.”

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