What is Defamation?
Your good name is one of the most valuable assets you have. It is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Irish Constitution. You are entitled to protect your reputation against unjust attack. Defamatory statements can be written or spoken and can be made in person, in print, on television, on radio, by text, tweet, email, blog, website or other form.
The EU’s Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest court, has ruled that under EU law a national judge can order Facebook to remove illegal content, such as material that has been deemed to be defamatory, on a worldwide basis. The ruling provides guidance for member states on how the EU e-commerce directive is to be interpreted, extending the reach of bloc’s internet law outside of its own borders.
The case concerned an Austrian politician who sued Facebook to force the social media giant to remove online comments about her, which alleged that she was a member of a fascist party, amongst other things. The Austrian court found that the comments were defamatory and Facebook was ordered to remove the comments, which it did, but only in Austria. The politician applied to the court for an order that the material be removed on a worldwide basis. The Austrian court referred the question to the EU’s highest court, asking whether EU internet law allows a national court to order the removal of defamatory material outside the territories of the EU. The EU court agreed with the politician and said, yes, Facebook can be ordered to remove material globally.
Digital rights’ groups have expressed concern that the judgment may have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. The ruling may extend the role of technology companies in monitoring online speech. It remains to be seen how such a ruling can be enforced worldwide. In the United States, for example, freedom of speech is very highly valued, often more highly than other rights. If an order to take down was made to include the United States, it is questionable whether it could be complied with and it would seem likely that it would be subject to challenge in that country’s courts.
The court’s judgment came as a surprise to many given that only a week previously, the same EU court ruled that the right to be forgotten does not extend outside the borders of the European Union.