Polish NGO Wins Fight Against Facebook’s Censorship

Facebook has been blocked from banning on a whim and without due process.

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Społeczna Inicjatywa Narkopolityki (SIN, the Civil Society Drug Policy Initiative) has triumphed over Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, securing a verdict that significantly curtails the power of internet platforms to indiscriminately censor user content in Poland.

The Polish court’s decision, backed by the Panoptykon Foundation, a digital rights group, establishes a precedent that user blocking must be justified and subject to challenge within the user’s own jurisdiction.

The court has directed Meta to reinstate SIN’s previously blocked content and issue a public apology for the unjustified censorship on its platforms. This outcome represents a significant victory for both SIN and Panoptykon, marking a critical moment for the protection of online free speech rights. The struggle of these two Polish organizations, extending over five years, was aimed at ensuring accountability in moderation decisions and the right of wrongfully blocked users to seek redress.

SIN, known for its work in harm reduction and substance abuse prevention, experienced an unanticipated setback in 2018 when Facebook, without any clear explanation or prior notice, deleted the organization’s pages and groups, citing violations of its Community Standards. In a similar move in January 2019, one of SIN’s Instagram accounts, another platform under Meta, was removed.

A spokesperson for SIN expressed frustration over the incident, stating, “Our fanpage was removed without a warning, without any explanation why we were being censored and without any indication which content specifically violated the Community Standards. We were also not given the possibility to effectively appeal the ban. Years of our work and memories recorded on this page were at the mercy of corporate whims.”

They further emphasized the critical role Facebook played in SIN’s outreach, describing the platform as not only a primary communication channel but also a valuable repository of information on harm reduction, dependence prevention, and specific psychoactive substances. The loss of a fanpage that had accumulated information over seven years significantly impacted SIN’s ability to reach and assist those in need.

This case is groundbreaking in Poland, being the first to challenge private censorship on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and winning in favor of the organization that was arbitrarily blocked.

Panoptykon Foundation lawyer Dorota Głowacka, involved since 2019, highlights the court’s clarification that Facebook’s actions of blocking users without a valid reason or the ability to contest such decisions are illegal. She points out that, historically, attempts to appeal these blockings often seemed futile, but this ruling paves the way for fighting private censorship effectively.

“The court clearly stated: Facebook cannot block users without any justification and without providing them the possibility to effectively challenge the decision. Such actions are unlawful,” said Głowacka. “Until now, blocking decisions have often been made arbitrarily and in a non-transparent manner. It has been difficult to contest them in practice. Any attempts to appeal them have seemed rather Kafkaesque. We are hoping that now, thanks to this ruling, we will no longer be helpless against private censorship.”

The ruling, however, is subject to appeal by Meta.

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Tired of censorship and surveillance?

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