SUMMARY: The first court hearing in the case between a Polish NGO and Meta took place before the Warsaw District Court on 7 February 2023. The hearing was conducted almost four years after the organisation sued the internet giant for deleting its accounts and groups without a prior warning or an explanation.
The ‘Civil Society Drug Policy Initiative’ (‘Społeczna Inicjatywa Narkopolityki’, or ‘SIN’) is a Polish NGO which conducts educational activities concerning the harmful consequences of drug use as well as provides assistance to people who abuse such substances, including harm reduction activities.
In 2018, without any warning or clear explanation, Facebook removed fan pages and groups run by SIN. The platform had characterised them as being ‘in violation of Community Standards’. In January 2019, one of the SIN’s accounts on Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook, was also removed in similar circumstances.
Lawsuit by SIN, and previous rulings
On 7 May 2019, supported by EDRi member, the Panoptykon Foundation, SIN filed a lawsuit against Facebook, demanding restoration of access to the removed pages and accounts, and a public apology.
In 2019, the court delivered an interim measures ruling in which it temporarily (for the duration of the proceedings) prohibited Facebook from removing fanpages, profiles and groups run by SIN on Facebook and Instagram, as well as from blocking individual posts. The court has furthermore obliged Facebook to store profiles, fanpages and groups deleted in 2018 and 2019. If SIN eventually wins the case, all published content, together with users’ comments, fans and followers, can be restored. The court also acknowledged its jurisdiction and that the Polish law applies to this case.
First court hearing of a Kafkaesque moderation trial
In the first hearing of the case on 7 February 2023, the court wanted to know more about the circumstances: how exactly the blocking happened, what efforts SIN made to appeal this decision, and what was the result of these efforts. It heard a statement from the current president of SIN. Two more witnesses – SIN’s members responsible for social media communication at the time - will be heard at the next hearing, which is set to take place on 23 June 2023. These hearings will be a first-hand account of a Kafkaesque Facebook moderation trial.
The court also announced that it will later issue a decision about its jurisdiction in the case. Panoptykon brought the case before the Warsaw court because we believe that users of services provided by a global company which serves more than half of the country’s population should be able to challenge the company’s wrongdoing in their own country and language.
During the first hearing, Meta representatives were also trying to prove that education to prevent harms related to substance abuse is equal to promoting substance abuse. However mistaken the company is, that is not the point. We insist that Meta’s arbitrary and non-transparent banning of the SIN’s accounts infringed the principles of freedom of speech, due process and the right to an effective remedy.
Dorota Głowacka, Anna Obem