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European court decides what Facebook can show to the rest of the world

A case against Facebook’s policies for removing posts in the European Court of Justice could have implications for users around the world. In the ruling published on Thursday, October 3, the court ruled that Facebook must remove content worldwide if the court determines that content to be illegal, despite the fact that different laws may mean that content isn’t illegal everywhere.

The ruling stems from a case of defamation brought by Eva Glawisching-Piesczek, an Austria Greens party chairperson. As politics on the social media platform tend to go, a user shared an article on Facebook with a slew of names. Glawisching-Piesczek requested that Facebook take down the post, which courts in Austria called defamatory, but the network refused.

Glawisching-Piesczek sued the network for their refusal to remove the defamatory post, and per the ruling shared today, won the case. The suit is one that crosses multiple borders, with the Austrian filing the complaint against Facebook’s European headquarters, based in Ireland. The European Court of Justice is at the top of the court system in the European Union, which means Facebook can’t take the case any further in hopes of an appeal.

The court determined that Facebook must remove the defamatory content if the post is found to be illegal in Europe. The network also can’t simply restrict the post for users based in Europe, that post must be removed worldwide, the courts said. 

The decision doesn’t require the network to be proactive about locating and removing the posts, but requires the network to take action worldwide, despite differences in defamation laws around the world. Facebook also must remove any identical posts, as well as equivalent posts, the court ruled.

During the case, Facebook argued that removing the posts worldwide restricted free speech in countries with differing laws. Posts calling politicians names aren’t uncommon on the network in the current political climate, but with the ruling, if a court system in the EU finds that content to be illegal, the post must be removed in its entirety.

Under the European Union directive on electronic commerce, social media networks are not liable for illegal information if the network has no knowledge of that information or takes reasonable steps to remove or disable that content. The court was asked to interpret how that law applied when the network is directly asked to remove the content, ruling not only that the content must be removed, but that it should be removed worldwide.

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