Judge: Facebook under no obligation to allow all opinions about COVID-19

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Facebook may delete messages, pages and groups about COVID-19 if they can lead to damage according to the social medium, the Amsterdam court said on Tuesday certainly. A Facebook user went to court because he thinks that his freedom of expression is being restricted.

Judge gives judgment in a general sense

The person, whose identity is not known at Press, argued, together with the Smart Exit foundation and the Viruswaarheid foundation, that Facebook unlawfully removes profiles, groups and pages because of criticism of the corona measures of the cabinet.

The Virus Truth Foundation is one of the reasons behind the #ikdoenietmeermee campaign, revealed NRC. Under this hashtag, dozens of well-known Dutch people posted Instagram posts in September in which they asked “critical questions” about government policy.

Facebook will delete messages about the coronavirus if they can cause damage in the real world. This concerns, for example, messages stating that taking hydroxychloroquine can prevent an infection with the corona virus. It is now clear that this drug does not work against COVID-19.

The judge was not clear from the prosecutors about which profiles, groups or pages Facebook would have removed. The judge does, however, rule in a general sense on how Facebook’s policy relates to the right to freedom of expression.

Facebook allows users to disagree with, for example, the health organization WHO or the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). However, a message will be deleted if it adds to the risk of bodily harm. The judge ruled that Facebook has the right to determine and implement its own policy in this way.

The right to freedom of expression does not automatically mean that someone can exercise this right wherever he wants, according to the judge. Facebook may “itself set the rules that apply to its platform”.

The judge also notes that someone has the right to express an opinion, but cannot demand that the platform of choice allows it.

It is “understandable” that because of the potential “enormous reach” the Facebook user chooses Facebook to make his voice heard, the judge said. But a person can also “bring his views to the attention of the general public through other means”. “For example by approaching the press or setting up your own website.”

Jens Maliepaard, the Facebook user’s lawyer, argues that in this judgment the judge ignores the power that Facebook has as a platform to steer the social debate. “This power leads to the arbitrariness to remove government-critical content and not government-pushed messages. That could ultimately lead to Facebook becoming a mouthpiece for the government.”

Facebook is satisfied with the verdict. “We are pleased that the judge has ruled in favor of our measures against corona misinformation,” Facebook said in a response. “We do not accept content on Facebook and Instagram that could lead to potential physical harm, as some misinformation about COVID-19 does.”

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