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Legitimate and legal speech in jeopardy, Facebook warns after EU ruling

By Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter

Facebook has warned that legitimate and legal speech could be removed as a result of tougher controls put forward by the EU.

The tech giant has repeated concerns for freedom of expression, saying that a decision by the EU's top court could force it to rely on automated tools which remain a "blunt instrument".

It also said non-democratic countries could demand similar powers to severely limit speech on the platform, in response to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling earlier this month.

The court deemed that any individual country in the EU should have the ability to order social networks to restrict global access to defamatory posts declared as illegal, as well as any "equivalent content" posted by others.

It comes after Austrian politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek demanded Facebook remove a comment published by another user that she deemed harmful to her reputation, after Austrian courts ruled in her favour.

Facebook argues that the EU ruling undermines the principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on another country.

"While our automated tools have come a long way, they are still a blunt instrument and unable to interpret the context and intent associated with a particular piece of content," said Monika Bickert, vice president of global policy management, in a blog post.

"Determining a post's message is often complicated, requiring complex assessments around intent and an understanding of how certain words are being used.

"A person might share a news article to indicate agreement, while another might share it to condemn it.

"Context is critical and automated tools wouldn't know the difference, which is why relying on automated tools to identify identical or 'equivalent' content may well result in the removal of perfectly legitimate and legal speech."

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has previously called the move a "troubling development", telling staff: "This is something we and other services will be litigating and getting clarity on what this means."

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