CJEU judgment in Facebook Ireland case is threat to online free speech

Digital 4 min read
ARTICLE 19
  • Ruling means that social media platforms could be compelled to automatically filter users’ posts
  • National courts could force companies to remove posts by users in other jurisdictions

A Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) judgment could have major consequences for the freedom of expression and privacy rights of Internet users around the world.

In Case C-18/18 Glawischnig-Piesczek v. Facebook Ireland, the CJEU has ruled that when a court instructs Facebook to remove an unlawful post, it can also order it to remove ‘identical content’ and ‘equivalent content’.

Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, Thomas Hughes said:

“This judgment has major implications for online freedom of expression around the world.

“Compelling social media platforms like Facebook to automatically remove posts regardless of their context will infringe our right to free speech and restrict the information we see online. The judgment does not take into account the limitations of technology when it comes to automated filters.

“The ruling also mean that a court in one EU member state will be able to order the removal of social media posts in other countries, even if they are not considered unlawful there. This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what Internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”

The judgment means that Facebook would have to use automated filters to identify social media posts that are considered to be ‘identical content’ or ‘equivalent content’.  Technology is used to identify and delete content that is considered illegal in most countries, for example, child abuse images. However, this ruling could see filters being used to search text posts for defamatory content, which is more problematic given that the meaning of text could change depending on the context. Although the ruling has said only content that is essentially the same as the original unlawful post should be removed, it is likely that automated filters will make errors.

The judgment says that the E-Commerce Directive allows specific monitoring in order to comply with a court order but it is unclear how Facebook could remove identical content without searching the posts of all users.

The judgment has also ruled that EU law allows a court in one EU member state to issue an order that could be used to remove posts by users around the world – even though what is considered unlawful in one country might not be considered unlawful in a different jurisdiction. 

ARTICLE 19 campaigns to make social media companies more transparent and accountable for the content they take down. Automated filtering and takedowns often lead to errors and can make companies’ takedown processes less transparent.

 

Contact

Pam Cowburn

[email protected]

07749 785 932

 

Notes to Editors

  • ARTICLE 19 works for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.
  • ARTICLE 19 campaigns to make social media companies more transparent and accountable for the content they take down. Automatic filtering could make companies’ takedown processes less transparent.
  • Read more about ARTICLE 19’s concerns over the flaws of using automated tools to remove online content: https://www.article19.org/resources/facebook-congressional-testimony-ai-tools-not-panacea/