Facebook Balks at EU Court of Justice Ruling on Removing Content Globally

The case was referred by a court in Austria

The post in question did not violate Facebook’s policies Ramberg/iStock

Facebook responded to a ruling last week by the Court of Justice of the European Union enabling any single EU nation to order the removal of content from the social network not just in that nation, but globally.

Vice president of global policy management Monika Bickert explained in a Newsroom post that the ruling was spurred by an Austrian politician’s personal defamation case.

That politician outlined her views on immigration, as well as her party’s views on the topic, and a news article contained a comment from a Facebook user that strongly critiqued her.

Bickert noted that the post did not violate Facebook’s policies, as threats of violence, harassment and hate speech are covered, but criticism of elected officials and their policies is allowed.

She added that the social network respects local laws, so the post in question was made unavailable in Austria when a court in that country ruled that it violated the law there, but the Austrian court sought global removal of the post and similar content, referring the matter to the EU Court of Justice.

Bickert wrote in the Newsroom post, “First, it undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on another country. This is especially important with laws governing speech, because what is legally acceptable varies considerably in different parts of the world and even within the EU. The ruling also opens the door for other countries around the world, including non-democratic countries who severely limit speech, to demand the same power.”

She continued, “Second, the ruling might lead to a situation in which private internet companies could be forced to rely on automated technologies to police and remove ‘equivalent’ illegal speech. This is especially troubling for situations, like this one, where the speech is political in nature.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also weighed in on the EU Court of Justice ruling in the company’s internal question-and-answer session earlier this month, saying, “A lot of what we do internally is focused on giving people a voice, on enabling more freedom of expression, allowing people to express all of the things they want, and there are a lot of challenges to that. Some are cultural. There are safety issues. We want to make a welcoming community. Some of the stuff people want to post there are real issues and we need to deal with that, but there are a lot of policy and legal issues around the world, and that’s an area where we are constantly engaging with different governments and pushing back.”

He added, “This is something we and other services will be litigating and getting clarity on what this means. I know we talk about free expression as a value, and I thought this was a fairly troubling development.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.