An Austrian court has ruled that Facebook must remove postings that contain hate speech from its platform, which could impact posts on the social media site around the world.
The case was brought by Austria’s Green party, which objected to insults posted by someone who didn’t use their real name on Facebook about its leader, Eva Glawischnig. The court said that postings have to be removed from the social media site in its entirety, not just deleted from the Austrian site. It also ruled that verbatim repostings must be taken down.
According to Austrian newspaper Die Press, Glawischnig was called a “lousy traitor” and a “corrupt bumpkin” in the posts.
Facebook has previously argued that only the laws in California, where it has its headquarters, or in Ireland, where its European operations are based, should apply to the company. According to Reuters, Facebook lawyers in Vienna did not comment on the ruling.
Social media sites have struggled with how to respond to hate speech online, declining to get too entangled in policing content for fear of restricting free speech.
“Many different groups which have historically faced discrimination in society, including representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, and LGBT communities, have reached out to us in the past to help us understand the threatening nature of content,” Facebook wrote in a 2013 post about “controversial, harmful and hateful speech.”
“We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial,” Facebook wrote. “We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying).”
Facebook also explicitly bans hate speech, but said that there is frequently “offensive content” posted to the site that falls outside the definition of hate speech so is allowed to remain on the site.
The Anti-Defamation League’s “best practices” for challenging cyberhate include allowing users to easily report hateful content and requiring social media companies to respond to reports “in a timely manner.”
Twitter has reacted to hate speech online by suspending accounts, including some associated with the alt-right movement, which has white nationalist beliefs. The platform said its rules “prohibit targeted abuse and harassment” and it has the right to suspend accounts that do not comply.