Argentina Fines Facebook for Defying Censorship Order

EspañolA court in Rosario, Argentina, has ordered Facebook to pay compensation of US$77,000 for its failure to close online groups allegedly defaming a local resident. Civil judge Carlos Eduardo Cadierno also ruled that the social-media giant is liable for an additional US$3,800 for every month that it refuses to comply.

Lawyers for Facebook Argentina have been notified, and are likely to appeal the verdict. The case originated in November 2013, when a member of Rosario’s corps of Voluntary Firefighters — named LES in court proceedings — asked a local tribunal to demand that Facebook close several groups that allegedly share personal and professional attacks against him.

Cadierno duly issued the order at that time, asking the Palo Alto, California-based company to shut down the offending accounts. However, for the past year Facebook has largely ignored the ruling, and the groups remain visible on the website.

“Facebook has always made excuses for not complying with this resolution,” LES attorney Ezequiel Zabale says, “ranging from a supposed violation of freedom of expression to the alleged impossibility of taking this decision in Argentina.”

“This decision seeks to oblige Facebook to finally comply with the judicial ruling compelling it to close those profiles used to attack my client, who in making this judicial claim never sought financial gain.”

Given the likely appeal of Cadierno’s ruling, the case will proceed to a national court. The social-media website has a mechanism for reporting inappropriate posts, and promises to “take action on all reports of abusive behaviour directed and private individuals.” It does, however, allow users to “speak freely on matters and people of public interest.”

Broader Ramifications

A precedent for the case came in December 2013, when a judge in Concordia ordered search engines Google and Yahoo to remove webpages on local news websites linking a former judge to human-rights violations committed during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Journalist Claudio Gastaldi published allegations in local daily Junio that Julián Genaro Quevedo, newly appointed to a high position in a regional tribunal, had signed petitions in 2002 and 2003 to prevent the extradition of alleged human-rights abusers in the military.

The newspaper and its lawyers alleged personal and professional links between Quevedo and notorious authors of state atrocities and repression, and defended their right to free expression. Quevedo countered that the allegations were “a smear campaign.”

The court ordered the paper to remove the relevant web pages, and Google and Yahoo got in line and removed their avenues for accessing the “misleading information.” Gastaldi appealed the ruling, which remains to be heard in an upper tribunal.

Elsewhere in the world, following pressure from the European Court of Justice, Google has begun deleting search-result links on an individual request basis. The company has so far removed over 200,000 links from its country-specific search engines, and rejected nearly 300,000 requests. Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo, also affected by the European Court decision in May, are now beginning to scrub results as well.

The US Supreme Court is currently debating whether laws against threatening speech posted on Facebook would violate the First Amendment.

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