Facebook’s been in the news again this week (shock!) following a landmark ruling from the EU’s highest court. The ruling means that, along with similar apps and websites, its compulsory for Facebook to remove illegal content worldwide as a matter of course.
This means that platforms have to seek out illegal content and remove it rather than waiting for it to be reported. The news follows recent changes made to Facebook Groups to enhance the transparency surrounding closed communities.
Facebook said the court ruling raised “critical questions around freedom of expression” and one expert said it was a significant ruling with global implications.
Where did these changes come from?
The case follows on from an Austrian politician receiving insulting comments on Facebook which the country’s courts have said damaged her reputation. Stemming from the case of Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, Austria’s Supreme Court asked Europe’s highest court to clarify their position on the incident.
As it stands under EU law, Facebook and other platforms are not held responsible for illegal content posted by users, until they have been made aware of it – at which point, they must remove it quickly.
What were the court outcomes?
The European High Court has clarified its position on the case and ruled the following three things:
- If an EU country finds a post illegal in its courts, it can order websites and apps to take down identical copies of the post
- Platforms can be ordered to take down “equivalent” versions of an illegal post, if the message conveyed is “essentially unchanged”
- Platforms can be ordered to take down illegal posts worldwide, if there is a relevant international law or treaty
It is worth noting that Facebook is unable to appeal against this ruling.
What are the effects of these rulings?
Privacy campaigner Max Schrems told BBC news that the ruling could have implications for Facebook’s closed groups.
In days gone by, the social network had required users to identify each instance of a post they wanted to be taken down before the firm would tackle them. But since some of its pages are members-only, the victim might not be able to access them all. Now, the onus would be on Facebook itself to find them using their new Groups Quality technology.
Facebook has said countries would have to “set out very clear definitions on what ‘identical’ and ‘equivalent’ means in practice”. It said the ruling “undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country”.
However, platforms can be compelled to take down posts worldwide within the framework of relevant international laws only.
Following a string of scandals over recent years, this landmark ruling from the EU’s highest court is yet another blow to Zuckerberg & Co. It’ll be interesting to see what precautions Facebook takes to ensure they keep its nose clean in future.