European Court: Facebook users liable for others’ hateful comments to their posts

On September 2, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) agreed with the ruling of previous courts that social media users could be found guilty of violence for hateful comments made by others on their page.

  • The case of Sanchez v. France, in which the court rendered this decision, relates to the events dated October 2011. Then Julien Sanchez, the mayor of Beaucaire, a town in the south of France, during the parliamentary elections, has published a Facebook post about his political opponent. His supporters published offensive comments about Muslim residents of the city.
  • In 2013, Sanchez and others responsible for writing the comments were accused of inciting inter-ethnic, religious, and racial hatred. The case went to court and all were found guilty and fined 4,000 euros (this amount was reduced at a later date).
  • After losing his appeal in the French courts, Sanchez appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming a violation of the right to freedom of expression. His case was heard there in September 2015.
  • After reviewing the case, the ECHR did not agree that the decisions of previous courts violated the right to freedom of speech. So, it decided to leave them unchanged. According to the court, Sanchez is responsible for other users’ comments promoting hatred against a group of people. After all, he did not remove these comments from his post for six weeks, and his Facebook page is publicly available. Which means he is responsible for the content of those comments.

“The applicant had knowingly made the wall of his Facebook account public, thereby allowing his friends to post comments there. He had thus been under a duty to monitor the content of the statements published. In addition, the Criminal Court had emphasized that the applicant could not have been unaware that his account was likely to attract comments of a political nature, which by definition were polemical and should therefore have been monitored even more carefully by him. The Court of Appeal had held, along similar lines, that his status as a political figure required even greater vigilance on his part,” the court decision reads.

You can read the decision on the case here: