Top German court rules Facebook illegally removed ‘hate speech’ posts

Top German court rules Facebook illegally removed ‘hate speech’ posts
Social network giant should have informed users about posts being removed and accounts suspended, says Federal Court of Justice

Facebook has been ordered to reinstate posts it removed for violating its hate speech rules after a top German court ruled it acted illegally.

The Federal Court of Justice said Facebook failed to inform two users it had removed their posts and was suspending their accounts.

In its ruling, the Karlsruhe-based court stated that the social network giant should have informed the users “at least retrospectively” and given them a reason for doing so, or the opportunity to respond.

The cases concerned posts dating back to August 2018 in which two users took aim at Muslim migrants and people of immigrant origin.

In its three-page summary, the court said Facebook’s terms of service regarding the deletion of posts and blocking accounts for violating its community standards werenull and void”.

The court found the social network giant was not entitled to delete the posts and suspend the accounts under its April 2018 conditions of use, which barred users from violating “community standards” and banned “hate speech”, which it did not define more precisely.

Facebook is entitled in principle to set standards that go above and beyond legal requirements and to reserve the right to delete posts and suspend accounts, the court said.

But it must commit itself to informing a user at least after the event about the removal of a post, and to giving advance notice of plans to suspend an account, giving the user a reason for the suspension and the possibility to respond.

Facebook said it would review the judgment to ensure it can continue to effectively remove hate speech in Allemagne.

A company spokesperson said: “We have zero tolerance for hate speech, and we’re committed to removing it from Facebook.”

Germany recently beefed up a hate-speech law that first came into force in 2018 and requires platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the video-sharing service run by Alphabet’s Google unit, to police and take down toxic content.

Google this week requested a judicial review of a new provision in the law, known in German as NetzDB, saying it violated privacy because data can be passed to law enforcement before it is evident a crime has been committed.

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