redes sociales

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A few days ago, following the events at the US Capitol and the comments made by Donald Trump, several social networks indefinitely suspended the now ex-president’s accounts, to avoid dissemination of messages inciting violence and further unrest. Many people are now talking about censure and criticizing the power social networks have to limit their users’ freedom of speech and information.

Social networks have clearly become a powerful tool for exercising these freedoms and these rights are certainly heavily protected under our laws. However, it should also be noted that companies have a right to regulate the use of their platforms under the freedom of enterprise and to take action when the established terms of use are breached. Therefore, we must weigh up the rights at play in these cases.

The Judgment of the Provincial Court of Appeals of the Balearic Islands of 26 March 2020 covers this, resolving the dispute between a Twitter user and the company after his user account was canceled.

In this case, in mid-2017, Twitter temporarily suspended the claimant’s account after he published a tweet that did not comply with the social network’s terms of use as it contained threats or incited violence. Subsequently, in 2019, Twitter permanently canceled the same user’s account for publishing a tweet promoting prejudice, intolerance and hatred towards a particular group of people due to their sexual orientation.

After the account was canceled, the user filed a lawsuit against Twitter claiming (i) that this measure breached the contract existing between them, (ii) that his right to free speech was being infringed and (iii) that the clause of the “Twitter User Agreement” on which the measure was based is null and void as it solely ties the agreement to Twitter’s intention.

The Provincial Court of Appeals rejected the claimant’s arguments and, upholding the first-instance judgment (which had concluded that the social network’s actions were aligned with law), dismissed the user’s appeal.

The court therefore established that the “User Agreement” is a contract that binds both Twitter and the user, in which a series of rights and obligations are established for each party and certain sanctions are envisaged if the terms are breached. In this case, as the user published tweets breaching that Agreement, Twitter took action accordingly and, in view of the severity of the comments and the repeated breaches, it initially suspended the user’s account before eventually canceling it permanently. Therefore, the court considers that Twitter did not act disproportionately and did not breach the terms of the contract, acting instead in accordance with the User Agreement.

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals rejected the claim that the decision to cancel the account infringed the claimant’s freedom of speech. The court therefore believes that the measure adopted does not deprive the claimant of his freedom of speech but merely prevents him exercising this right through Twitter. The claimant can continue to express his opinions through other channels and social networks, both on the internet and in other media, but not via Twitter, as he has breached the established terms of use.

The Court of Appeals also concluded that the clauses of the Agreement are not unfair, as users also have the option to cancel their Twitter accounts at any time with no need to give a reason, and, therefore, there is no imbalance between the parties.

Finally, the court dismissed the compensation claims for the alleged pain and suffering caused and ordered the claimant to pay the procedural costs.

In any case, this judgment can be appealed, and so we await possible future resolutions in this or similar cases.

Authors: Ainhoa Rey and Jorge Monclús

This post is also available in: Español



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