Facebook accuses European Union of policing free speech after court ruling
14 October 2019, 11:58 | Updated: 28 October 2019, 15:26
Facebook has accused the European Union of undermining international order and empowering politicians in undemocratic countries to reach beyond their borders to censor critics.
Head of global policy Monika Bickert criticised a European Court judgment which said EU states could order the removal of content not only in their own country, but all around the world.
"Imagine something you wrote and shared on Facebook was taken down, not because it violated our rules, and not because it broke the law in your country, but because someone was able to use different laws in another country to have it removed," wrote Ms Bickert.
According to Facebook, this is now a possible means of censorship following the end of a case involving Austrian Green Party politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek.
Ms Glawischnig-Piesczek's case against the social media firm went to the European Court of Justice over a defamatory comment which referred to her as a "lousy traitor" and a member of a "fascist party" beneath an article on her party's immigration policies.
"Although some people might find the post unwarranted or upsetting, it was not against our rules. We prohibit threats of violence against politicians, as well as harassment and hate speech, but we allow people to criticise elected officials and their policies," explained Ms Bickert.
"Nevertheless, we respect local laws when their limits on free expression meet the legitimacy, necessity and proportionality tests required by human rights standards," she added.
When the comments were found to be defamatory in an Austrian court, Facebook made the post unavailable in Austria.
However, the court also asked for the posts to be removed worldwide and included an obligation on Facebook to remove similar posts on a global basis as well.
The European Court of Justice last week supported the ruling.
Facebook says the decision "undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on another country".
Ms Bickert said it opened the door for countries which severely limit the speech of their citizens to demand the same ability from Facebook to censor those citizens globally.
Facebook said this obligation would require it to use automated tools which "are still a blunt instrument and unable to interpret the context and intent associated with a particular piece of content".
In a public Q&A;, the company's founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg described the ruling a "very troubling precedent to set".
Mr Zuckerberg claimed: "When a government is democratic and has good rule of law, we generally will follow the local laws in that country.
"So if someone posts something we won't show it in that country if it is against the laws in that country, but we haven't had any precedent where any country has tried to say 'hey, you can't do that outside of our country'."
Where there have been attempts to force Facebook to apply national moderation standards internationally before, Mr Zuckerberg said the company had successfully fought them.
He stated that "the details of exactly how this gets implemented are going to depend on national courts across Europe" and said that the company would be litigating and getting clarity over the ruling.
(c) Sky News 2019: Facebook accuses European Union of policing free speech after court ruling