EU court says Facebook can be ordered to remove content
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.
“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 big picture: 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.