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Facebook Must Respect EU Nation’s Own Defamation Laws, Will Online Freedom Suffer?

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In a case that will likely have implications for online freedom of speech, the highest EU court has ruled that Facebook must respect the defamation laws of each member state of the European Union. The ruling follows a court case between the social media firm and an Austrian politician.
The European Court of Justice effectively ruled earlier today that any EU nation can order the San Francisco-based tech firm to remove posts and other material that is deemed offensive. The outcome will force the technology company to censor content in jurisdictions outside of the one reporting it. The decision is the outcome of a case between the former leader of the Austrian Green Party, Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, and Facebook. She successfully sued the company in Austrian courts, which referred the case to the top European judiciary. The case was over an apparent defamation in 2016. A user of the social media platform posted a news article to their personal Facebook account along with personal attacks against Glawischnig-Piesczek. The individual reportedly called her a fascist and a “lousy traitor of the people”, amongst other insults. Along with the original content, Glawischnig-Piesczek demanded that the company remove similar insulting material. Although Facebook initially deemed this rather tame outburst acceptable, the most senior court of the European Union has today ruled that the company should have removed the disparaging comments that could have negatively impacted the apparent victim’s reputation. The outcome cannot be appealed. Naturally, the decision has angered both Facebook and campaigners for internet freedom. They argue that such a ruling could be used for unwarranted censorship of material an individual or group doesn’t want to go public. Another criticism of the ruling relates to its enforcement. Given that any ban on material deemed offensive in particular nations would almost certainly need to be automated, the filters could remove legitimate material by mistake. Particularly vulnerable would be satirical content or other forms of political commentary. Meanwhile, those in favor of the ruling argue that more needs to be done to help protect internet users from hate speech and other online bullying. Facebook appears to be appeasing such requests as it recently appointed a board of 11 to 40 members to oversee such decisions about content. The decision by the board will reportedly be final, with no single member of the organization able to overturn it. What do you think about the outcome of this case? Do you agree with it or think sets a dangerous precedent for internet censorship? Comment below. 
Images are courtesy of Twitter, Shutterstock.


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