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EU Court Rules Member States Can Force Facebook to Remove Content Worldwide

Attendees walk past a Facebook logo at the company’s developers conference in San Jose, Calif., April 30, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

The European Union Court of Justice, the highest court in the EU, ruled Thursday that individual member states can force Facebook to remove content worldwide if it contradicts their laws.

The court ruled in favor of Austrian lawmaker and former Green Party chairwoman Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, who had sued Facebook in Austria to remove a news story that she considered libelous and that could be viewed by users worldwide. An Austrian court decided in her favor, but requested the opinion of the EU court as well.

“The ruling essentially allows one country or region to decide what Internet users around the world can say and what information they can access,” commented Victoria de Posson, senior manager of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a lobbying organization whose clients include Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Her firm is based in Washington, D.C.

Facebook charged that the court’s decision “undermines the longstanding principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country.”

The same EU court ruled in September that the bloc’s “right to be forgotten rules” do not apply outside its 28 member states. These rules allow EU citizens to request search engines such as Google to remove outdated links to information on themselves, even if the information is accurate.

The EU has generally imposed much stricter data and privacy laws than those legislated in the U.S.

However, certain tech companies have faced growing pressure in the U.S. owing to antitrust initiatives or calls for stricter regulation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently commented that an Elizabeth Warren presidency would constitute an “existential threat” to the company over the Massachusetts Senator’s calls to break up the social media giant. Additionally, Google is currently facing an antitrust probe led by the attorneys general 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

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