EU ruling forces social media firms to take down illegal content worldwide

4 Oct 2019

European Court of Justice. Image: © Gwenael Piaser/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Facebook has pledged to fight an EU ruling that would compel it to globally remove content deemed to be illegal in certain jurisdictions.

The latest ruling from the European Court of Justice has concluded that social media firms such as Facebook can be compelled to globally remove content that violates local laws.

Currently, material that is illegal in one jurisdiction is left online elsewhere unless it contravenes Facebook’s company policy. The recent development has found, however, that “EU law does not preclude such an injunction from producing effects worldwide”.

‘This is something I expect Facebook and other companies will be litigating’

The ruling comes after a case involving Facebook Ireland and Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, the former leader of the Austrian Green Party. She is seeking an order that Facebook remove a comment published by a user, which allegedly insulted and defamed her.

The Austrian courts called upon the European Court of Justice to interpret the ‘directive on electronic commerce’ for this case. Under this directive, a host provider such as Facebook is not liable for content on its platform if it is either unaware it is illegal or acts expediently to remove or disable access to the content once it is made aware of illegality.

The directive does not, however, compel companies to actively monitor information to ensure it is not illegal.

Fighting the ruling

In a livestream Q&A with employees, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company has previously fought these kinds of broad takedown requests successfully and that “this is something I expect [Facebook] and other companies will be litigating”.

“This judgement raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech that might be illegal in any particular country,” Facebook added in an additional statement.

“At Facebook, we already have Community Standards, which outline what people can and cannot share on our platform, and we have a process in place to restrict content if and when it violates local laws.

“This ruling goes much further. It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country.

“It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is ‘equivalent’ to content that has been found to be illegal.”

European Court of Justice. Image: © Gwenael Piaser/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic