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Austrian Court Tells Facebook to Remove Hateful Speech



A court in Austria ordered Facebook to remove messages it says unfairly attacked Green Party leaders.

This came after Germany approved a plan last month to fine social media up to $55 million if they fail to remove untrue and hateful postings.

Elsewhere in Europe, there are other efforts to remove hateful and threatening posts from social media. And the European Union is considering similar EU-wide rules.

Barbara Perry is an expert on online hate attacks at the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology in Canada.

She said, “Increasingly, we are seeing hate speech flourish online and become an organizing base for folks who otherwise would be sitting in their basements and drinking beer.”

Often, the targets of threatening posts have found little they could do to stop them, she said. Many come from people who do not provide their real names.

New efforts to stop hate speech on social media

In Austria, Green Party officials requested a court order to remove posts they said were not only hateful, but included false information. Some postings said a Green Party candidate was very sick.

The candidate was forced to release medical records to show he was healthy, the Austrian Green Party said.

Presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, a former leading member of the Greens Party, celebrates victory last December in Vienna.
Presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, a former leading member of the Greens Party, celebrates victory last December in Vienna.

In its recent ruling, the Austrian court said Facebook must remove certain postings about the Green Party, not only from its Austrian pages, but worldwide. Facebook did not provide an immediate comment.

James Grimmelmann is a law professor and expert on internet laws and regulations at Cornell Tech in New York City.

He said the Austrian Court’s ruling follows recent trends on online hate speech.

“Online hate speech has been subject to European bans for many years,” Grimmelmann said. Some European countries are considering giving people the right “to be forgotten” by not having their internet history captured by search engines such as Google, he said.

Regulating speech always requires a careful balance, Grimmelmann said.

“Hate speech and anti-terrorism laws are used in other countries to suppress the political opposition,” he said. It is still to be determined, he said, if the Austrian courts can strike the right balance between threatening speech and people expressing unpopular opinions.

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Hillary Clinton campaign complained people were regularly posting false stories on social media.

Some postings said she was very sick, some said she had committed crimes and others gave false information about her positions on important issues.

Canadian asks for help stopping attacks on women

Last year, Canadian lawmaker Sandra Jansen asked fellow members of the Alberta Legislature to stand up against social media attacks on her and other women politicians.

She told CBC radio that she was being hit regularly with hateful messages.

Among the comments, she told CBC; “Dead meat. Sandra should stay in the kitchen where she belongs. Fly with the crows and get shot."

Attacks on social media are not limited to public officials.

Last month, The Southern Poverty Law Center posted a lawsuit against a neo-Nazi website it said was terrorizing a Jewish women and her family.

The lawsuit says that Andrew Anglin used his web site, the Daily Stormer, to start a “troll storm” against the Tanya Gersh family of Montana. A troll storm is when people target a person by posting many critical, and often false, online comments.

Anglin complained that Gersh, who helps people buy and sell homes, had pressured the mother of a White Nationalist to sell her home. Her lawyer says the charge is false.

Anglin urged his readers “to take action” against Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana. He posted phone numbers, and social media information for the family -- and that brought threats of physical violence and anti-Jewish comments, the lawsuit says.

The federal court in Montana does not list a lawyer for Anglin. He has not posted any papers with the court.

I'm Lucija Milonig.

And I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from Reuters and other sources. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page. Have you ever been hit with hateful messages on social media? How do you think people should deal with such attacks?

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Words in This Story

post - n. a message on an online site

flourish - v. to do well

basement - n. the part of a building that is entirely or partly below the ground

regulate - v. to make rules or laws that control something

suppress - v. to end or stop something

kitchen - n. a room in which food is cooked

crow - n. a large black bird that has a loud and harsh cry

lawsuit - n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations

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