Top EU court rules that Facebook can be forced to remove some material

Top EU court rules that Facebook can be forced to remove some material

The European Union’s highest court Thursday ruled that lower courts in Europe can order Facebook to remove user comments that have been declared illegal. 

The ruling follows a case brought to an Austrian court by a former politician who demanded Facebook take down a post concerning her that the court said was harmful to her reputation and was public for any user to see. 

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“EU law does not preclude a host provider like Facebook from being ordered to remove identical and, in certain circumstances, equivalent comments previously declared to be illegal,” the European Court of Justice said said in a statement.

“In addition, EU law does not preclude such an injunction from producing effects worldwide, within the framework of the relevant international law.”

The court explained that host providers like Facebook are not liable for stored information if they are unaware of its illegal nature or if it swiftly removes it, but that that exemption does not prevent courts from ordering the host to take down or disable access to such posts. 

The court’s order also prohibits any requirement that a host monitor information it stores or actively seek out facts or circumstances “indicating illegal activity.”

The enforcement of defamation, libel and privacy laws varies from country to country, underscoring the difficulty of creating universal standards in the EU. Critics warned before the court’s decision that letting a single nation order a host to delete material could limit free speech and that implementing such a plan could require the use of automatic content filters.

Facebook quickly came out against the ruling, saying in a statement to The New York Times that it “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.” 

“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,” the company's statement said.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.