A court in Berlin has issued a temporary restraining order against Facebook. Under the threat of a fine of 250,000 euros (roughly $300,000 USD) or a jail term, Facebook was obliged to restore a user’s comment that it had deleted. Moreover, the ruling prohibited the company from banning the user because of this comment.
This is the first time a German court has dealt with the consequences of Germany’s internet censorship law, which came into effect on October 1, 2017. The law stipulates that social media companies have to delete or block “apparent” criminal offenses, such as libel, slander, defamation or incitement, within 24 hours of receipt of a user complaint.
As many critics pointed out, this state censorship makes freedom of speech subject to the arbitrary decisions of corporate entities that are likely to censor more than absolutely necessary, rather than risk a crushing fine of up to 50 million euros ($65 million USD). According to a newspaper report, Facebook’s censors have just ten seconds to decide whether to delete a comment or not.
The case with which the court in Berlin had to deal was that on January 8, 2018, the Swiss daily Basler Zeitung posted an article with the title “Viktor Orban speaks of Muslim ‘invasion'” on its Facebook site. The blurb read:
“Viktor Orban wonders how in a country like Germany… chaos, anarchy and illegal crossing of borders can be celebrated as something good.”
Facebook user Gabor B. posted a comment:
“Germans are becoming increasingly stupid. No wonder, since the left-wing media litters them every day with fake news about ‘skilled workers,’ declining unemployment figures or Trump.”