Facebook must delete postings of hate speech worldwide: Court

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says hate speech has no place on the platform.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says hate speech has no place on the platform.

VIENNA • Facebook must remove postings deemed hate speech, an Austrian court has ruled, in a legal victory for campaigners who want to force social media companies to combat online "trolling".

The case - brought by Austria's Green party over insults to its leader - has international ramifications as the court ruled that the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling.

The case comes as legislators around Europe are considering ways of forcing Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media platforms to rapidly remove hate speech or incitement to violence.

Germany's Cabinet approved a plan last month to fine social networks up to €50 million (S$76.8 million) if they fail to remove postings with such content quickly, and the European Union is considering new EU-wide rules.

Strengthening the earlier ruling, the Viennese appeals court ruled last Friday that Facebook must remove the postings against Greens leader Eva Glawischnig as well as any verbatim repostings. It said that merely blocking them in Austria without deleting them for users abroad was not sufficient.

The court added that it was easy for Facebook to automate this process. It said, however, that Facebook could not be expected to trawl through content to find posts that are similar, rather than identical, to those already identified as hate speech.

The Greens hope to get the ruling strengthened further at Austria's highest court.

They want the court to demand that Facebook remove similar - not only identical - postings, and to make it identify holders of fake accounts.

The Greens also want Facebook to pay damages, which would make it easier for individuals in similar cases to take the financial risk of taking legal action.

"Facebook must put up with the accusation that it is the world's biggest platform for hate and that it is doing nothing against this," said Mr Dieter Brosz, a Greens parliamentarian.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has said that hate speech has no place on the platform and the company has published a policy paper on how it wants to work against false news.

Facebook and its lawyers in Vienna declined to comment on the ruling.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Facebook must delete postings of hate speech worldwide: Court'. Print Edition | Subscribe