The EU Court of Justice: FB may be obliged to remove comments identical to illegal ones.
By a ruling handed down yesterday, 3 October 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that individual countries can force Facebook to eliminate illegal content, including hate content, both within the EU and worldwide.
The decision came after an Austrian Green Party member, Eva Glawischnig Piesczek, had filed a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg’s social network at the Austrian High Court, calling for the removal of a number of defamatory comments about her globally.
The Austrian court therefore turned to the European Court to ask
whether Article 15, paragraph 1 of Directive 2000/31/EC was in general an
obstacle to one of the obligations imposed on a hosting service provider, that
it has not promptly removed unlawful information, in particular the obligation
to remove, not only such unlawful information but also other identical
information such as:
• at world level;
• in the Member State concerned;
• of the user concerned worldwide.
The Court replied that there is nothing in EU law that would prevent national courts from asking Facebook to search for and delete duplicate posts of illegal content. And that such removal measures must be applied worldwide.
This ruling threatens to open a pot of pandora because what is forbidden in one nation may not be so in another, even within the EU and among its Member States; In fact, it is strongly against the thesis of those who maintain that a country should not have the right to limit free expression in other countries with different rules.
Removal obligations imposed on host provider, based on the EU standards mentioned above, a hosting service provider, such as Facebook, is not responsible for the information stored if it is not aware of its illegality or if it acts immediately to remove it or to disable access to it as soon as it becomes aware of it.
However, this disclaimer does not affect the possibility of requiring the host provider to end a breach or prevent a breach, in particular by deleting or disabling unlawful information.
On the other hand, the directive prohibits the general supervision of storedinformation or the active search for facts or circumstances indicating the presence of illegal activities.
By that judgment, the European courts specified that, in accordance with Community rules, it is legitimate for a Member State to order the hosting service provider.
Under EU law, a host provider may be ordered to remove identical comments and, under certain conditions, equivalent to a comment previously declared unlawful.