You are here

First court decision in SIN vs Facebook: the internet giant must not restrict the organisation’s activities in its services

02.07.2019

The District Court in Warsaw, in its interim measures ruling, has temporarily prohibited Facebook from removing fanpages, profiles and groups run by SIN (a Polish NGO) on Facebook and Instagram, as well as from blocking individual posts. This means that – at least until the case is decided – SIN’s activists may carry out their drug education without concerns that they will suddenly lose the possibility to communicate with their audience. The court has furthermore obliged Facebook to store profiles, fanpages and groups deleted in 2018 and 2019 so that – if SIN wins the case eventually – they can be restored together with the entire published content, comments by other users, as well as followers and people who liked the fanpages. This is not the only good news: the court has also confirmed that Polish users can enforce their rights against the tech giant in Poland. The court’s decision is not final – after the delivery of the decision, Facebook Ireland will have the right to appeal it with the Appeal Court.

At the same time the court has not allowed at this stage the request to restore deleted fanpages, profiles and groups for the duration of the trial. The court argued that it would be a far-fetched measure and in practice it would lead to recognising the fundamental claim expressed in the lawsuit.

By allowing the request for interim measures the court decided that SIN substantiated their claims. Although it is only the beginning of the trial and we have a long way ahead of us, we made the first important step in the fight against excessive and opaque content blocking practices on social media.

The lawsuit against Facebook for the infringement of personal rights was filed in May. SIN argued that blocking content restricted, in an unjustified way, the possibility to disseminate information by the organisation, express opinions and communicate with their audience. Concerned about further censorship, SIN was not able to freely carry out their educational activities. Moreover the removal of content suggested that the organisation’s activity on the platforms was harmful, thus undermining SIN’s credibility. By allowing the request for interim measures the court decided that SIN substantiated their claims. Although it is only the beginning of the trial and we have a long way ahead of us, we made the first important step in the fight against excessive and opaque content blocking practices on social media.

So called “private censorship” is one of the modern-day threats to freedom of speech. Getting blocked on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, which have become ‘gatekeepers’ to online expression and for which, just as in the SIN’s case, there’s no viable alternative, in reality equals to significant limitation in disseminating information. The court’s decision means that for now Facebook will not be able to arbitrarily decide to block content published by SIN and gives hope that in the future we will be able to regain access to blocked fanpages and accounts.

In June educational posts in which SIN educators cautioned against the use of some substances during hot weather were again blocked from Instagram. They also received a warning that ‘subsequent infringements of the community standards’ may result in removing the entire profile. Now they will be able to catch a breath and continue their social media activity without worrying that they may be blocked again at any time.

By issuing this decision, the court recognised its jurisdiction to hear the case in Poland under the Polish law. This is great news for Polish users. In cases against global internet companies the possibility to enforce one’s rights in Poland is a condition for a viable access to justice.

By issuing this decision, the court recognised its jurisdiction to hear the case in Poland under the Polish law. This is great news for Polish users. In cases against global internet companies the possibility to enforce one’s rights in Poland is a condition for a viable access to justice. If we could only sue Facebook abroad, the possibility of protecting our rights would be illusory, taking into consideration the costs, the language barrier or an unknown, foreign legal system.

The court’s decision is not final – after the delivery of the decision, Facebook Ireland will have the right to appeal it with the Appeal Court. The decision has been made ex parte, solely on the basis of a position presented by SIN, without the participation of the other party. The decision is temporary and does not prejudge the final verdict of the entire trial – the main proceedings are only about to begin.

SIN is represented pro bono by Wardyński & Partners law firm.

More information about the case (available in Polish and in English) can be found at the SIN vs Facebook website.

Interim measures ruling by District Court in Warsaw (in Polish) [PDF, 61 KB]