On 2 September 2021, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that the conviction of a politician for failing to promptly delete unlawful comments published by third parties on the public wall of his Facebook account did not breach freedom of expression.
1. The facts & issues at stake:
in October 2011, a public figure, the elected mayor and member of a political party, was held by French Courts responsible for incitement to hatred or violence against a group of people on the grounds of their membership of a specific religion, based on comments posted by third parties on his public profile's Facebook wall.
The politician contested the unlawfulness of the comments and denied his responsibility: as a "producer" of an online communication site and not the direct author of the comments, (who were identified and convicted as well) he claimed that French Courts have put a special responsibility on him in breach of his right to freedom of expression – Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
2. The ECHR judgment:
The Court also points out the particular responsibility of politicians in combating hate speech, as emphasised by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Recommendation R(97)20 on “hate speech” and by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
In this case, the Court confirmed the clear unlawfulness of the comments at stake which are likely to generate rejection or hostility towards the group of people of Muslim faith (associating them with "drug dealers and prostitutes", who "reign supreme" and throw "stones at white people's cars").
With regards to the applicant's responsibility, the Court relied on several factors to back the domestic Courts' ruling:
The Court thus considered that the French Courts' decision had been based on relevant and sufficient reasons and the interference could be seen as “necessary in a democratic society”. Hence there had been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention.
While underlining the specific political profile of the applicant, this judgment points out an increasing obligation of control imposed to the account holder ("producer") of an online communication site.
The applicant already announced its intention to lodge an appeal against this decision.