Facebook’s private censorship

Facebook and other online platforms have been criticised for their role in arbitrarily censoring legal content that is shared through their services. Without explanation Facebook removed pages belonging to Spoleczna Inicjatywa Narkopolityki (SIN), an organisation helping drug users with harm-reduction techniques, cutting off their most important means of communication with those they aim to support.

Panoptykon is supporting SIN to challenge this censorship. They are also pushing for Facebook to change its policies so that it is clear why something is censored and there is a process for contesting such restrictions to free speech online.

Facebook’s private censorship

Organisation Name

Panoptykon

Country/Jurisdiction

Poland

Amount Granted

EUR 9,518

Current Status

Case Won

Grant type

Single Instance Litigation Support

Description

Facebook and other online platforms have been criticised for their role in arbitrarily censoring legal content that is shared through their services. Without explanation Facebook removed pages belonging to Spoleczna Inicjatywa Narkopolityki (SIN), an organisation helping drug users with harm-reduction techniques, cutting off their most important means of communication with those they aim to support.

Panoptykon is supporting SIN to challenge this censorship. They are also pushing for Facebook to change its policies so that it is clear why something is censored and there is a process for contesting such restrictions to free speech online.

In 2019, the District Court in Warsaw imposed an order preventing Facebook from blocking SIN’s new pages while the case is pending.  In July 2021, the court upheld its interim measures ruling. This means that – until the case is decided – SIN’s activists may carry out their drugs-related education on the platform without concerns that they will suddenly lose the possibility to communicate with their audience.

On 7 February 2023, the first hearing took place before the Warsaw Regional Court. Evidence proceedings will continue at a second hearing later in 2023.

In the meantime, others have started to approach Panoptykon and their lawyers asking for support in restoring their censored content, and the issue of content censorship has received substantial media coverage in Poland.

On 14 March 2024, the Warsaw District Court ruled  that the removal of Facebook and Instagram’s pages run by SIN was unlawful because the platforms’ decisions were not properly justified and in reality SIN was not able to effectively contest them. The court obliged Meta to reinstate the pages (with all the followers, likes, removed content etc.) and publish a public apology. Panoptykon say this is the first judgement questioning ‘private censorship’ online in Poland. Another important outcome of the case was that it confirmed that banned users have the right to sue in their own country.

"Without explanation Facebook removed pages... cutting off their most important means of communication with those they aim to support"

Strategic Goal

To change corporate policies on content moderation towards a fair, transparent, and regulated system, and to promote a debate about private censorship on public speech and the disproportionate power of tech giants.

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Image credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash