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Austrian Court Rules Facebook Must Delete Hate Speech

An Austrian court ruled on Friday that the "hate postings" against an Austrian politician must be deleted from Facebook worldwide. The case concerns posts insulting Eva Glawischnig, the leader of the Austrian Green party. Above, a poster featuring Glawischnig before legislative elections in September 2013.

In a decision that could have global consequences, an Austrian court ruled on Friday that Facebook must delete postings deemed to be hate speech.

"[T]he Viennese appeals court ruled on Friday that Facebook must remove the postings against Greens leader Eva Glawischnig as well as any verbatim repostings, and said merely blocking them in Austria without deleting them for users abroad was not sufficient," Reuters reports, adding that Facebook's lawyers in Vienna declined to comment on the ruling, but that a court spokesman confirmed it.

The case was brought by Austria's Green party after its leader, Eva Glawischnig, was insulted on Facebook by posts from someone who didn't use their real name. According to the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, the posts called Glawischnig "miese Volksverräterin" and "korrupten Trampel," which translate roughly as "lousy traitor" and "corrupt bumpkin."

Facebook has argued that it is governed by the laws of California (site of its headquarters) or Ireland, the base of its European operations, Die Presse reported. But the court ruled that simply blocking the hate posts in Austria was not enough — they must be deleted across the platform.

The court said it was easy for Facebook to automate the process of deleting verbatim repetitions of the hate posts, according to Reuters. "It said, however, that Facebook could not be expected to trawl through content to find posts that are similar, rather than identical, to ones already identified as hate speech."

"Facebook must put up with the accusation that it is the world's biggest platform for hate and that it is doing nothing against this," said Green spokesman Dieter Brosz, Reuters reports.

The Washington Post reported in December:

"The insults directed at Glawischnig appeared to have been spread via the same fake profile that was used to circulate false rumors during the run-up to Austria's presidential vote this month, including that Alexander van der Bellen — who eventually won the election — was suffering from cancer and dementia. In what seemed like an echo of the U.S. presidential race, Van der Bellen, who is close to the Green Party, was forced to publish his health records to dispel the rumors."

Facebook is facing increased pressure in Europe to respond more quickly to fake news. Last month, Germany moved forward with legislation that would fine social networks as much as $53 million "if they fail to give users the option to complain about hate speech and fake news or refuse to remove illegal content," Bloomberg reported.

"Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on Wednesday backed a bill that would also force the companies to purge content flagged as child pornography or inciting terrorism — two categories added to the original draft. Corporate officials responsible would risk separate fines of as much as 5 million euros. If passed by parliament, the measures would be the toughest regulation Facebook faces in any country where it operates. ...

"Facebook ... expressed concern that the measure 'would force private companies instead of courts to decide which content is illegal in Germany.' "

Last week, after a number of violent incidents appeared in videos on its network, Facebook announced that it would hire 3,000 employees worldwide to review violent or hateful content.

Facebook pays NPR and other leading news organizations to produce live video streams that run on the site.

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