Facebook and similar apps and websites can be ordered to take down illegal posts worldwide after a landmark ruling from the EU’s highest court.
Platforms may also have to seek out similar examples of the illegal content and remove them, instead of waiting for each to be reported.
The European Court of Justice ruling is seen as a defeat for Facebook and similar online platforms, as it would increase the onus on them to monitor what appears on the internet.
Internet companies would be forced to take action worldwide only when ordered to do so by a court in EU states – and not by governments, for example. That means any requests would have to go through a longer procedure than a simple complaint to a regulator.
“EU law does not preclude a host provider such as Facebook from being ordered to remove identical and, in certain circumstances, equivalent comments previously declared to be illegal,” the court said. “In addition, EU law does not preclude such an injunction from producing effects worldwide, within the framework of the relevant international law which it is for member states to take into account.”
The court ruled after an Austrian politician, Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, sued Facebook in her home nation to remove comments she considered bad for her reputation and insulting in a post that could be seen by any Facebook user.
Austria’s Supreme court turned to the EU’s top court for an interpretation of a European rule that says online platforms are not liable for illegal content they are unaware of, as long as they act swiftly to remove or block it once they are informed about it.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, noted that the ruling is limited to court orders and did “not concern any other forms of notice submitted by users alleging that certain content is illegal.”
Facebook said the ruling raises critical questions around freedom of expression.
It already has a system to restrict content if and where it violates any given country’s laws.
“This ruling goes much further,” it said in a statement.
“It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country.”
The move comes after the same court ruled last month that the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rules – which allow people to ask for the removal of some search results that come up for their name – do not apply outside the 28-nation bloc.