Posted on May 10, 2017

Facebook Must Delete Hate Postings, Austria Court Rules

BBC, May 9, 2017

A court in Austria has ordered that Facebook must remove postings seen as hate speech, in a ruling that is set to have international implications.

The case was brought by the country’s Green Party after its leader was targeted by a false account.

The court said postings not just in Austria but worldwide must be deleted. Facebook has not yet commented.

The ruling is seen as a victory for campaigners who want to make social media platforms combat online trolling.

The appeals court in Vienna ruled that postings against Greens’ leader Eva Glawischnig – and any verbatim re-postings – should be removed.

It added that merely blocking the messages in Austria without removing them for users abroad was not sufficient.

The court said it was easy for Facebook to automate this process.

A Green lawmaker, Dieter Brosz, said Facebook could no longer claim it was just a platform and needed to take responsibility for tackling hate postings.

Facebook is desperate not to describe itself as a publisher because of the editorial and legal responsibilities that come with that position.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg continues to insist that his firm is a tech company and not a media organisation – and yet his social network is unquestionably a source of news for many of its 1.94 billion users and therefore it is increasingly under pressure to take responsibility for the content posted freely on it by its members.

Whether the worldwide ban on viewing targeted hate speech imposed by the Austrian court can be enforced remains to be seen, but it is reminiscent of a law journalists and broadcasters are very aware of already: that is libel, and the repetition of libel.

Whether that’s fake news or hate speech, the days when people can upload what they want – and face only retrospective action if complaints are made – are perhaps numbered.

Internet giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google have all come under fire in many countries for failing to remove hate speech from their platforms promptly.

Last month, German ministers approved plans to fine social media firms up to 50m euros ($53.3m; £42.7m) if they fail to remove hate speech and fake news quickly.

The companies have recently announced measures to address the issue: