Austrian Greens score court victory over fake Facebook news

Court in Vienna orders Facebook Ireland to remove false and hate posts immediately

A fake Facebook user spread rumours that Austria’s Green-backed president-elect, Alexander Van der Bellen, was suffering from cancer. Photograph: Alexander Koerner/Getty

A fake Facebook user spread rumours that Austria’s Green-backed president-elect, Alexander Van der Bellen, was suffering from cancer. Photograph: Alexander Koerner/Getty

 

An Austrian court has ordered Facebook’s Irish subsidiary to remove fake and hate posts immediately, in a case with potential consequences for the company’s worldwide operations.

The Green Party in Austria launched a court action against Facebook Ireland Limited for failing, despite multiple requests, to remove online comments made about its federal spokeswoman, Eva Glawischnig.

She was described by a fake Facebook user “Michaela Jaskova” as a “rotten traitor” and a “corrupt tramp”.

The same fake profile spread rumours that Austria’s Green-backed president-elect, Alexander Van der Bellen, was suffering from cancer, claims that plagued him in the final days of campaigning.

Important signal

The Greens took legal action against Facebook in Vienna’s commercial court, winning a preliminary injuction.

“This is a very important signal,” said Dr Eva Windhager, the Green Party lawyer in the case. “We are over the moon.”

The Greens in Austria were similarly delighted, describing as “exciting” the ruling that Facebook could not dodge its responsibility.

The social network is facing growing pressure across Europe to respond more quickly to fake news and online incitment. German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned the company to tackle fake news more quickly or face greater regulation, after her own integration minister was a recent target of Facebook fake news.

A fake post claimed Aydan Özoguz, born in Germany to Turkish parents, had demanded the introduction of an asylum tax of 5.2 per cent of gross income. The post, with the fake quote superimposed on an image of her from a television appearance, was shared thousands of time online. Users attacked the minister as “crazy” and her fictitious tax proposal as “bonkers”.

Invention

Germany’s Green Party has also been a target of Facebook fake news. Former leader Renate Künast was attacked online after a profile called “Resistance German Patriots” published a quote in which she appeared to show understanding for an Afghan asylum seeker accused of raping and murdering a 19 year-old German woman.

Again, the quote was an invention but, again, it was shared thousands of times.

Ms Künast said her demands that Facebook remove the post were met with “vague” remarks and it was days before the social media company acted and issued an apology.

On her page, followers accused the social media platform of dragging its feet when it came to removing problematic postings while acting swiftly to get paid advertisements online.

One wrote: “When money flows, things go chop chop!”

In the past, Facebook insisted it was a platform rather than a traditional publisher of news. Now it says it has stepped up its response time – and beefed up its response team – for fake news and incitement posts.