Facebook must remove hate speech published on its platform around the world, not just in the country it is posted, an Austrian court has ruled.
In a landmark decision that will likely have global ramifications, an Austrian court rejected Facebook’s appeal against a ruling that it had to remove defamatory posts made by a fake account about Green Party leader Eva Glawischnig.
Facebook’s own community standards state that the tech giant will remove content that violates local laws, but only in the relevant country. The court ruled that these posts, which have been classified as hate speech, must be removed not just in Austria, but around the world.
The ruling has been seen as a big win in the fight against online trolling and harassment, and could see judges around the world follow in the same direction.
A Green Party spokesperson says there are no longer any excuses for Facebook to host hate speech.
“[To say] ‘We are only a platform, we can do nothing for it’ is no longer valid. Facebook must take responsibility,” the spokesperson said.
“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.”
The court also ruled that Facebook must remove all reposts of the hate speech, but does not have to take down similar posts.
In the ruling, the court said that Facebook could easily automate the deletion process, but could not be expected to trawl through its platform to find similar posts.
It’s a major development in Facebook’s ongoing push to avoid being classified as a publisher, and taking on all the responsibilities this entails.
It follows a series of violent videos and posts involving hate speech appearing on Facebook. To combat this, the company recently hired more than 3000 new employees to prevent this content from being broadcast.
The company is also facing an investigation in Germany over its refusal to remove hate speech, with politicians in the country last month putting forward a bill to fine social media companies up to $70 million if they refuse to remove hate speech from their platforms.
Facebook has its own community standards but regularly faces accusations of a lack of effort in combating online harassment and hate speech.
“To help balance the needs, safety and interests of a diverse community we may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it,” the standards state.
“We don’t tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow you to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them.”
The Green Party has also declared its intentions to take the case further, with plans to bring it to the country’s highest courts to argue that Facebook must also remove similar posts and reveal the identities of fake accounts.