A French court has ruled that a challenge to Facebook’s terms of service under French law may go ahead in a French court. A man had had his account suspended for publishing French nude art on Facebook, and sued Facebook for violations of Freedom of Speech. A French court will now rule whether the man’s fundamental rights were unlawfully limited by Facebook.
Frédéric Durand-Baissas, a teacher in France, posted a famous 19th-century painting by Gustave Courbet named “The Origins of the World” on his Facebook account. The painting portrays a female reproductive organ, celebrating birth and origin – in addition to being a piece of great importance to the community of art historians. Facebook, in accordance with its noncompromising stance on any and all nudity, promptly blocked monseiur Durand-Baissas’ Facebook account.
The Frenchman decided to challenge this in court and argued that his freedom of speech had been unlawfully limited, and that French law should apply. Arguably, when he does post in France with a company that does business in France, that’s not an unreasonable position.
However, this obviously cuts both ways. If local law can take precedence before the terms of service of a global company, under the provision that they conduct business in the jurisdiction where the law seeks to be applied, then that doesn’t just apply to France, but also to China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. However, we’ve already seen the blade cut in that particular direction. Several of the global services have adapted to various dictatorships’ restrictions in freedom of speech in order to do business there at all.
Therefore, it’s beyond refreshing to see the blade cut the other way, too – an opening for the possibility that Facebook’s ban on natural and artistic nudity must give way to actual freedom of speech, as required by fundamental rights. It doesn’t just go in the direction of allowing less freedom of speech – this is the first time there’s been an opening to allow more freedom of speech than desired by the corporation in question.
At the end of the day, this is about the fact that the public square, where freedom of speech used to be enforced, has moved in under the terms-and-services umbrella of a private corporation, where they enforce their own arbitrary limits of what may be expressed and not. That means our fundamental rights have effectively moved into the hands of private interests. I welcome a challenge to this doctrine and an enforcement of freedom of speech, once a public discussion forum – like Facebook – has grown large enough to be a de-facto public location, if not the de-facto public location.
And if you can’t voice your opinion about any subject you like, or express nonsexual nudity and art in a public location, then there’s a much larger problem than being promised Mars bases and getting Facebook instead.