A court in Austria has ruled that Facebook must take down postings that constitute hate speech. This was in a case that had been brought to the court by the Green Party of Austria following insults hurled at its leader, Eva Glawischnig. According to Die Presses, an Austrian newspaper, Glawischnig was called names which when loosely translated branded her as a ‘corrupt bumpkin’ and a ‘lousy traitor’.
The ruling will have ramifications across the globe as the court ordered that the offending content must be taken down across the platform, beyond the Austrian borders. In an earlier ruling, this fact had been overlooked.
The development follows efforts by European legislators to find ways of forcing internet companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook to take down hate speech or content that incites people to violence. Last month the German cabinet gave approval for a plan to slap social networks with fines totaling up to $55 million in the event that they don’t take down such content quickly. The European Union is also understood to be considering new rules that would be applied across the bloc.
The latest ruling by the appeals court in Vienna will serve to strengthen an earlier ruling which had not required a worldwide application. This is because the new ruling has made it clear that blocking the postings that constituted hate speech against the leader of Austria’s Green Party in her country alone was not sufficient and the same would have to be done across the platform.
In its ruling the court observed that this was a process that Facebook could easily automate. The court, however, noted that it was unreasonable to expect the social media giant to sift through all the content that its users post looking for hate speech.
The matter is not resting at the Appeals court as the Green Party is proceeding to the highest court in Austria to have the ruling strengthened. One of the prayers for the Greens is to have the Palo Alto, California-based tech giant compelled to take down postings that are similar and also compel Facebook to identify fake accounts and their respective holders. Additionally, Austria’s Green Party wants Facebook compelled to pay damages.
“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 Dieter Brosz, a Green Party parliamentarian.