Germany's high court ruled that Facebook broke the law by removing alleged "hate speech" without explanation, a move that could force the social media giant to change how it moderates content.
The Federal Court of Justice ruled on July 29 that Facebook violated German law when it removed posts from a German user that were critical of migrants. The court says Facebook should have warned the plaintiff before removing his post, explained the removal, and allowed the user to appeal the removal. Facebook has not announced how it will respond but said it will look closely at the ruling "to ensure that we can continue to take effective action against hate speech in Germany."
The Court of Justice's ruling is the latest challenge to Facebook's content moderation policies. In the United States, state and federal lawmakers are attempting to ban social media platforms from censoring content. Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R.) recently signed a bill that would prohibit social media companies from removing political speech and give users the right to sue platforms that do so.
Facebook claims it was justified in removing the German user's post, arguing the user agreed to be bound by the company's terms of service. The court rejected Facebook's argument, claiming that those terms "unreasonably disadvantage the users of the network contrary to the requirements of good faith."
Without the ability to ban users or content automatically, it is unclear how Facebook would moderate content on the platform. In its defense before the German court, Facebook said it would be "unworkable" to communicate its reasons for removing content to every user it censors.
Facebook relies on artificial intelligence tools, supplemented by low-paid overseas contractors who manually process potentially offensive or obscene content. Critics argue that this largely automated system often leads to unjustified censorship.
The site has made content rules on the fly during the pandemic, "fact-checking" and limiting the reach of scientific pieces arguing COVID-19 could have escaped from a Chinese lab. Facebook has also made sharp changes to its rules on other content. CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the right of Holocaust deniers to post on the platform before banning Holocaust denial from Facebook in 2020.