Austrian Court's 'Hate Speech' Ruling Says Facebook Must Remove Perfectly Legal Posts All Over The World

from the one-court-to-rule-them-all dept

The European anti-hate speech machinery rolls on, with each successive demand for social media platform responsiveness being greeted by Facebook’s “Thank you, may I have another?” Mark Zuckerberg informed the German chancellor in 2015 that Facebook’s often-blundering proxy censorship team was all about removing hate speech. In appreciation for Facebook’s efforts, German officials spent the following year trying to find a way to hold the company criminally liable for third party postings determined to be hate speech under German law.

Right next door, an Austrian court has just declared that Facebook is required to stamp out locally-defined hate speech… all over the globe.

Facebook must remove postings deemed as 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 the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling.

Not only will Facebook need to delete original posts and reposts, but it’s apparently supposed to track down anything that quotes the offending posts verbatim and delete those as well. Simply blocking them in Austria isn’t sufficient, though. Whatever one aggrieved Austrian political party thinks is hate speech has the possibility to affect all Facebook users, regardless of their location or level of free speech protections.

But that’s not all Austria’s Greens want: they want this ruling expanded to grant the Austrian government additional power over Facebook’s moderation efforts.

The Greens hope to get the ruling strengthened further at Austria’s highest court. They want the court to demand Facebook remove similar – not only identical – postings, and to make it identify holders of fake accounts.

These are dangerous powers to hand over to any government entity, but especially to recently-offended government officials with a half-dozen axes to grind. If this ruling holds up, Facebook — and by extension, its users — will be subservient to a foreign government that appears to like the sort of thing it sees in more authoritarian regimes where insults to government officials are met with harsh punishments. The worst thing about the ruling — it contains many bad aspects — is that it allows the Austrian government to determine what the rest of the world gets to see on Facebook.

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Comments on “Austrian Court's 'Hate Speech' Ruling Says Facebook Must Remove Perfectly Legal Posts All Over The World”

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47 Comments
Rekrul says:

Re: Jusirdiction

Facebook needs to shut down its physical presence in Austria and leave immediately, then refuse to comply with this nonsense.

But… If it doesn’t have offices and servers in Austria, how will the Austrian people be able to use Facebook? I mean it’s not like there’s a global network that lets computers in one country access services in another…

coward (anon) says:

Easy solution

There is an easy solution to this, Facebook should block access from Austria. Let the government deal with the backlash from their own citizens (or if there isn’t a backlash then Facebook doesn’t need to be in Austria anyway) Any loss of revenue Facebook might incur would pale next to the cost of fulfilling the court’s order.

ItsForTheChildren says:

Re: Re: Re: Europeans

You probably haven’t checked in with the state of ‘free speech’ lately then. It’s in a miserable condition, as PRISM etc monitor us in real time (and even here on Techdirt’s forum) and frequently intervene in conversations.

Free speech is only what you are willing to stand up and say- and like Snowden says- ‘if you think you have nothing to hide, you probably have nothing to say’ worth hearing.

American’s should be outraged at this state of affairs- databases for future blackmail.

I think your idea about ‘America’s” free speech is not in line with the times.

Anonymous Coward says:

Does facebook have the nads to challenge their bluff?

Let’s find out. It is my opinion that FB will just use this instead to ingratiate themselves further with government types and do everything they want while using this as scapegoat materials when the ignorant plebs bitch and moan like little children.

Every Nation gets the government it deserves.
~An Obama Approved message!

FFaceBook says:

Perhaps there more behind the covers

Government after government is coming down on Facebook and or Google to the point that we should pull back the covers and question what’s really on their mind.

From my perspective it’s about power. Facebook claims they have more users that most countries or union of states combined. Facebook through action or inaction has been perceived to effect elections pushing agendas far out of mainstream political views.

Zuck is running around in political campaign mode to sharpen his image of being a human being – which to me is questionable in itself and for another topic about lifelike artificial beings. Why is he doing this? Is it because country after country, government after government they have come to the conclusion that he personally is a threat to governments, to social order, to national security and the like. If it’s hate speech and it’s driving wedges in society and they read it on Facebook, why not target Facebook? They haven’t stopped targeting the offenders, Facebook isn’t the messenger it’s a platform for social disorder in their eyes and an (and this is a biggy) external one coming out of the U.S. which currently is a laughing stock around the world for a whole host of reasons which these countries want to avoid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Perhaps there more behind the covers

While social media sites do not organize people, they are the means by which people form organizations, and many of these span the boundaries of countries. This undermines the power of poltical parties and governments, and is increasing the focus of the battle over who controls society, the people themselves or the power seekers.

The printing press initiated a long struggle, which undermined the power of the Church and th Nobility, by providing a means whereby those with a passion to say something could speak to many people. The phone speeded up one to one communication, and the computer gave the record keeping ability that enabled the growth of large corporations. Radio,Film and TV are just a more controlled version of the printing press. The impacts have not been as dramatic as the invention of the printing press, and has not arrived at its conclusion, a few mega-corporations ruling the world.

The Internet is having the same sort of impact as the printing press, and is an opposing force to the centralization of power. In particular it allows many to many communication, allowing people to bypass bureaucratic structure, which were built to route messages from sender to the right unknown recipient in a system dominated by one to one communications. Just like the printing press changed the structure of society, so the Internet is changing the structure, and thin does impact existing power structure, because the chain of command, so beloved of bureaucracies is no longer needed,as individuals can put a request on social media, and it will be found by those who can respond to the request, and faster and more efficiently than a bureaucracy could do the same. I just hope that society adapts with less violence than that which followed the invention of the printing press.

Finally, while the Internet allows a few hateful people to make a lot of noise, it also allows a lot of people to share and co-operate to build a better life for themselves and others. The press largely ignores this aspect of social media, as it is people quietly sharing ideas, and helping each other to develop skills, and even businesses. Don’t let governments and large corporations kill the Internet, just because it threatens to reduce their power.

Coises (profile) says:

Green Party

According to the article, this action is being driven by Austria’s Green party, which Wikipedia says “is a member of the European Green Party and Global Greens.”

The Austrian Greens will, I suppose, listen to their Austrian supporters; the other two organizations should denounce this action immediately.

If Green Parties condone this sort of thing—and I think, and hope, they do not—goodbye, Greens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Facebook likely has a physical presence in Austria, and Austria clearly had enough jurisdiction to bring Facebook to court over this in a way Facebook needed to defend themselves. While Facebook certainly could leave Austria, If there is nothing in the EU laws that would prevent it, I can’t think of anything that would stop Austria from saying “companies operating a platform in Austria cannot host content illegal in Austria, including what we define as hate Speech” other than countries should properly limit their laws from having such an effect.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

While Facebook certainly could leave Austria, If there is nothing in the EU
> laws that would prevent it, I can’t think of anything that would stop Austria
> from saying “companies operating a platform in Austria cannot host content
> illegal in Austria, including what we define as hate Speech” other than
> countries should properly limit their laws from having such an effect.

I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Are you suggesting that Austria has some kind of legal authority over anyone whose website is accessible in Austria?

‘Cause that’s simply not the case. Unless a person or company has a physical presence in Austria (offices, servers, etc.), Austria has no legal authority over them whatsoever. So if Facebook shut down whatever offices it has there, they don’t have to obey any Austrian laws or court rulings. The only recourse Austria would have would be to block access to Facebook by anyone inside Austria– a move that would probably be very unpopular among the Austrian people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I couldn’t tell you if they at the moment have a physical presence, and if they do leaving the country while leaving their website up would be a viable path for Facebook. But at the very least Austria had enough jurisdiction over Facebook to bring them to court in a court case that Facebook felt the need to defend.

I find this to be a horrible situation and part of a looming problem that will be difficult to navigate as these rules become common in Europe. But at the very least, if Austria law has the reach to compel Facebook to remove posts from within Austria, then it is hard to see how Austria couldn’t have a similar law that applies to their global platform as a condition for operating (physically) within Austria.

ItsForTheChildren says:

First they started with ‘hate speech’legislation to pander to wealthy Popery, Saudi’s and Jewish bankers.

Then ‘they’ began to distribute child pornography as the very symbol of ‘why’ they need to limit privacy and every other Constitutional amendment that came after it- ‘for the children’ of course.

Then the came for the children themselves, kept them quiet, and obedient, and disprivated.

That’s the real picture.

William Braunfeld (profile) says:

What I find sad about this is, all the reasonable responses in this thread – growing some “nads” and challenging this, removing themselves from Austria entirely, et cetera – have a looow if not zero chance of happening. The nature of modern corporations is to blanch at the alightest hint of reduced profits, and it’s all too easy to say “But the shareholders” as an excuse for stupid BS. More likely they’ll waffle and find ways to appease and invest in half-measures, and do nothing to deter future attempts to restrict speech even more. Sigh.

Anonymous Coward says:

FB faces a very simple problem. If they want to offer sevice in every country in the eorld then they must comply with the local laws. If their system is worldwide then the implication is that actions taken in one will touch all.

Unless they break out their site per country they will always face this problem. The Austrian court order requires them to remove something. That FB is one big thing rather than country based parts isn’t the courts problem to solve. That is a business model issue.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

FB faces a very simple problem. If they want to offer service in every country in
> the world then they must comply with the local laws.

No, they don’t. They only have to comply with local laws if they have a phyisical presence in that locality.

Merely putting up a website doesn’t subject one to the laws of every country on earth merely because people in those countries can see one’s website.

My_Name_Here says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think that in offering the service in that country (and selling ads, I am sure) they are doing business in the country with or without a physical presence. Put it another way, if FB was blocked there tomorrow, would people suddenly have something less? If the answer is yes, then they are offered in the country.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If I run a site that’s open to all, that would include places like China(sorta), Russia and Iran. Were your idea correct then any mention of Tienanmen Square, pro-LGBT content, or ‘blasphemous’ content would be enough to get me in hot water as I’d be both in the jurisdiction of any or all of them and in violation of their respective laws, despite the fact that I’d never stepped foot in any of those countries and have no physical presence there whatsoever.

Such an idea would mean that whatever country had the most restrictive laws would be able to dictate what’s allowed as long as a site was available in their country, a bad enough idea on it’s own but something that would become exponentially worse since the second most restrictive would also get their say, and the third and so on.

If a company has a physical presence in a country, and/or is doing business within the country then there’s an argument to be made that they are likely within that country’s jurisdiction and need to follow their laws if they want to operate there, but simply being available in a country is hardly a sensible standard to set for whether or not a company is bound by the laws there.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not to mention: what happens if it’s illegal in one country to e.g. deny the Holocaust and illegal in another to claim that it happened?

It’s my understanding that the former is the case in Germany; it’s also my understanding that the leaders of at least one or two of the more totalitarian states out there have denied that the Holocaust happened, and it’s not a far step from there to forbidding claiming that it did happen (although I don’t recall offhand any reports of such a ban in practice).

If every nation has worldwide jurisdiction, then not only does the most restrictive law apply for every circumstance, sooner or later you wind up with conflicting laws attempting to govern the same act – and then whoever is involved in that act is stuck, in trouble no matter what course is chosen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They will have to divide it by country in order to follow the laws in those countries while not breaking laws in other countries, they will have no choice, as when countries see that their speech is being limited by Austria, they will respond by making laws that other countries can not limit their speech – then they will fine FB for doing so.
So FB will have no choice but to remove Austrian citizen’s posts with AI routines, then tell the Austrian citizens why – point at the law that their government passed to limit their speech, and give them a total number of Austrian citizen posts that were removed, as well as the total number of posts from around the world that they are not able to see.

Anonymous Coward says:

block austria

The only solution is to block Austria, because this kind of thing will never end. A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster saying, “Little insult, big fine.” And the amount of the fine. I was so shocked I took a photo. I’m sure they meant only insults to certain people because clearly it is open season on women and white men, and Trump, and jews. In every language there is a list as long as your arm (in very small type) of the derogatory, insulting terms used to refer to women. No one is making laws against insulting women. No one seems to give a big fat skanky fuck. But say “bullshit”, to a politician at their rally and you have security guards on you like flies on shit. Or, as has been clearly demonstrated, the current verbal no go zone is insulting muslims and people who decide to get plastic surgery on their crotch. Trolls are part of the internet. Get used to it or log off. Austria can set up a parental filter for themselves on their computers that doesn’t ever let people access anything that might offend someone’s sensibilities. They might be left with the word “the”.

John85851 (profile) says:

Setting precedent

Are the judges in Austria really so short-sighted that they don’t realize that they’re setting precedent around the world?
They may be thinking that they’re somehow protecting Austria against hate speech, but this opens the door for countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and China to crack down on Facebook to censor any speech they don’t like.
So then how does Facebook allow censoring from Austria but not China?

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