09 Oct, 2019

Social Media Giant Faces Scrutiny: Facebook Challenged

Is bad stronger than good?

It is a fact that people are far more inclined to remember negative criticism or comments, than praise.  It takes so many positive events to make amends for just one negative event.

The Court of Justice of the European Union issued a Press release on October 3, concerning judgement in the case in which Mme Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek sued Facebook Ireland before the Austrian courts.  She requested the removal of the notably harmful comment by a Facebook user which Austrian courts found insulting and defaming.   The news immediately hit the headlines!

The plain and simple truth is that Facebook, as one of the cyberspace’s Big Four, is, from time to time, subject to rigorous public scrutiny.  “Scandals” associated with these technology giants seldom raise an eyebrow: frightening if you consider the number of people using their services in the 21st century.

Reverting to type.  So, the Austrian Supreme Court has called on the CJEU to interpret the Directive on electronic commerce.  The Directive explains that Facebook is not liable for stored information if it has no knowledge of its illegal nature or if it acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to that information as soon as it becomes aware of it.  That exemption does not, however, prevent Facebook from being ordered by a relevant judicial or administrative authority to terminate or prevent an infringement, including by removing the illegal information or by disabling access to it.  However, the Directive does prohibit Facebook from monitoring the information which it stores or to actively seek facts or circumstances indicating illegal activity

Don’t hit the sack just yet…

We are all aware of the weight and influence of EU case-law.  That said, it is worth remembering that the CJEU does not rule on the dispute.  It is left to the national court or tribunal to dispose of the case in accordance with the CJEU’s decision, which in turn is binding on other national courts or tribunals hearing a similar issue.  Facebook said that the judgement undermines the longstanding principle that one country should not have the right to limit free expression in other countries.  On the other hand, the viral judgement embraces the blow-by-blow expression of views that authorities in Member States may require Facebook to remove identical and, in certain circumstances, equivalent comments previously declared to be unlawful.  

Kudos for setting this global benchmark and to Europe for governing the internet; likewise, EU law does not preclude an injunction from producing effects worldwide, within the framework of the relevant international law to be taken into account.  

Bear with us for just a tad longer and by the same token take a glance at CJEU judgement reached just a few weeks back, enshrining the position that the right to the protection of personal data referenced by Google Inc. is not an absolute right, and a person whose centre of interests is situated in the EU is likely to have immediate and substantial effects on that person within the EU itself and not worldwide.  Set side by side with the latest judgement, it would appear that Google must have had one quick-witted lawyer.

Now that you know when to hit the “sue” button, you can hit the hay.

Authors: Ivana Stojanović and Nadja Kosić