Facebook can be ordered to track down illegal content, ECJ rules

EU law may be used to force Facebook to proactively remove content on its platform previously declared to be illegal, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled on Thursday (3 October).

Austria’s supreme court, the Oberster Gerichtshof, had asked the ECJ to intervene in a case brought by Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, chair of Austria’s Green party and former member of the Nationalrat (National Council).

The claimant sought an order that Facebook remove a comment published by a user on that social network harmful to her reputation and similar allegations. A user of the platform had posted an article from the Austrian online news magazine oe24.at entitled ‘Greens: Minimum income for refugees should stay,’ accompanied by a comment that the Austrian courts found to be harmful to the reputation of Glawischnig-Piesczek.

On Thursday, the ECJ’s interpretation of the relevant law, the Directive on electronic commerce, which does not allow for a requirement for an online platform to “monitor generally information which it stores or to seek actively facts or circumstances indicating illegal activity,” stated that platforms can be obliged to remove content by the courts.

The ECJ ruled that the law “does not preclude a court of a Member State from ordering a host provider to remove content previously declared to be unlawful.”

The case is: C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook Ireland Limited.

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