The Austrian Supreme Court has decided that any censorship demands it places on Facebook must be implemented globally.
The ruling signifies defeat for Facebook in its final appeal in a case that has been running for years. Eva Glawischnig is former Austrian politician who didn’t like it when some random Facebook user described her as a ‘traitor’ and ‘corrupt’. She apparently decided it would be easier to censor those accusations than challenge them and has been trying to force Facebook to remove the posts ever since.
A year ago, the EU Court of Justice ruled in her favour, pretty much adding that anything that even comes close hurting the claimants feelings should be censored too. This created the absurd situation of making the global Facebook platform beholden to the whims of every country in which it operates.
Facebook took the matter to the Austrian Supreme Court, which published its ruling yesterday. The minutiae are unclear at this stage, but they don’t really matter. The long and short of it, as reported by Der Standard, is that Facebook must now censor those posts globally or face the legal consequences in Austria and possibly the whole EU.
The precedent this sets is chilling. Not only is it absurd for one country to be able to dictate what is visible in all others, but the ruling effectively says it’s no longer permissible to accuse politicians of corruption. Are you still allowed to accuse other people of corruption? Does this protection only apply to people who can afford to litigate for years? What else can Austria now compel Facebook and other internet companies to do?
This ruling may also have some bearing on the Section 230 debate over whether internet platforms should continue to not be held liable for content they host. In this case Facebook has been, which would appear to set the European legal precedent for further actions of this type. Maybe that’s why the internet giants have stepped up their calls for clarification on EU law on this sort of thing.