The Austrian Supreme Court has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on whether Facebook should actively search for hate speech posted by users. The original lawsuit against Facebook was filed by Eva Glawischnig, the former leader of the Austrian Green Party, in 2016, after Facebook refused to take down what she claimed were defamatory postings about her.
Last year, an Austrian appeals court ruled in favour of Glawischnig, ordering Facebook to remove the hate speech postings – both the original posts and any verbatim repostings of the same comments – not just in Austria but worldwide. The Austrian Supreme Court has asked the ECJ to look at two issues: 1. Whether Facebook needs to actively look for similar posts, instead of just reposts, and 2. Whether such content needs to be removed globally.
The case comes amidst concerted pressure in Europe for social media platforms to do more to tackle hate speech. A new hate speech law in Germany, known as the network enforcement act, requires companies to remove or block criminal content within 24 hours, or seven days for complex cases, of it being reported. The law has already attracted controversy, despite only being actively enforced since 1 January 2018, after Twitter deleted a post by the German justice minister, Heiko Maas, dating back to 2010 before he was appointed to the role, calling a fellow politician “an idiot”. Twitter has also deleted anti-Muslim and anti-migrant posts by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and blocked a satirical magazine’s account after it parodied the AfD’s anti-Muslim comments. The German Government has said that an evaluation will be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law is working.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has kept up the pressure on tech companies calling for them “to step up and speed up their efforts to tackle these threats quickly and comprehensively” and reiterating that it would “if necessary, propose legislation to complement the existing regulatory framework.”