Global Censorship: Court Rules EU Govts Can Take Down Content Worldwide After Politician Insulted

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The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that EU governments can order Facebook to take down content worldwide after an Austrian politician was insulted online.

Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, a leading figure in Austria’s left-progressive Greens Party, was branded a “lousy traitor of the people” and a “corrupt oaf”, among other things, in an Austrian news article concerning her party’s support for a minimum income for refugees which was shared on a Facebook user’s personal page, according to court documents.

The Green politician demanded Facebook Ireland, which manages Facebook in Europe, remove the post, and secured an Austrian court order commanding it when the U.S. subsidiary failed to comply — but was not satisfied when the social media giant only restricted the content in Austria.

Now the Court of Justice of the European Union has decreed that censorship orders issued by an EU state can apply globally, as EU law “does not preclude [a] host provider from being ordered to remove worldwide information disseminated via a social network platform”.

The EU judges rejected Facebook’s arguments that this would curb online free speech in third countries which do not allow the sort of state censorship which Glawischnig-Piesczek demanded.

They also ruled that EU does not “preclude a host provider which operates a social network platform from being ordered, in the context of an injunction, to seek and identify, among all the information disseminated by users of that platform, the information identical to the information that has been characterised as illegal” — i.e. other content repeating the “illegal information” about Glawischnig-Piesczek.

“This judgment has major implications for online freedom of expression around the world,” warned Thomas Hughes, executive director of the ARTICLE 19 charitable organisation, which “works for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.”

“Compelling social media platforms like Facebook to automatically remove posts regardless of their context will infringe our right to free speech and restrict the information we see online,” Hughes complained.

“The judgment does not take into account the limitations of technology when it comes to automated filters.

“The ruling also means that a court in one EU member-state will be able to order the removal of social media posts in other countries, even if they are not considered unlawful there. This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”

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