Abuse on Facebook: the main rules of the German courts for the legislator | News | DW


Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of former minister Renate Künast to obtain the personal data of social media users in order to file a lawsuit for online abuse.

The move means Facebook could now be forced to hand over information to track down and prosecute users whose comments were deemed potentially criminal.

What did the court say?

The Karlsruhe court overturned rulings from two Berlin courts, which had ruled that only 12 of the 22 comments were potential crimes.

The judges said previous courts had failed to properly balance an individual’s rights to their own public image against that of freedom of opinion.

While the bench stressed that freedom of expression – especially criticism of those in power – must be protected, there must be limits.

In carrying out freedom of expression assessments, the Court said judges should give more weight to statements that contribute to the formation of public opinion and less to those that spread emotional feelings against individuals. The court said lower court judges failed to do so.

The court said it was in the public interest: “Because a willingness to participate in state and society can only be expected if those who get involved and engage publicly are guaranteed a adequate protection of their personal rights“.

The ruling means Künast, who served as Germany’s food and agriculture minister from 2003 to 2005, can request the data.

However, the Berlin Court of Appeal will now be asked to decide whether the comments are criminal in nature, which will decide whether Facebook should disclose the information.

How did the dispute arise?

The legal dispute over the 22 comments, many of them sexist or violent in nature and featuring foul language, had caused nationwide unrest and outrage in 2019 and 2020.

The Berlin Regional Court had classified the partly obscene insults as “a hair on the border of what is still acceptable”.

She ruled that some comments in the posts, including those calling for her to be raped, did not constitute “defamation of the complainant and were therefore not insults”.

The abusive comments followed a Facebook post about a statement made by Künast in 1986 in the Berlin House of Representatives during a debate on the subject of violence against children and paedophilia.

A higher regional court in the city of Frankfurt later ruled that this was a false citation. However, by this point, Künast had already been targeted by the series of insults.

Künast welcomed the decision on Wednesday, saying it was a good day for democracy.

“After years of litigation, I am very satisfied with the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court,” she tweeted.

“This judgment is a piece of legal history in the digital age! Many of you face the worst humiliations and abuse every day. This decision affects all of you.”

The decision comes days after social media platform Twitter joined Facebook and Google in taking legal action against Germany’s expanded hate speech law. Social media companies say the legislation violates users’ right to privacy.

rc/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa, epd)


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