By Carey Wedler
In the United States, a crazed racist is currently facing murder charges for stabbing multiple men who attempted to stop him from harassing two teenage girls. In a court appearance, he justified his murder of two Americans, one a military veteran, by citing “free speech.”
On the other end of the spectrum, in Switzerland, a man was just convicted of liking Facebook comments that implied the plaintiff was racist, highlighting the potential dangers of regulating speech.
The Guardian reported:
According to a statement from the Zurich district court, the 45-year-old defendant accused an animal rights activist, Erwin Kessler, of racism and antisemitism and hit the ‘like’ button under several comments from third parties about Kessler that were deemed inflammatory.
The comments were made in 2015 during heated discussions on a range of Facebook groups about which animal welfare groups should be permitted to take part in a vegan street festival, the Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger reported.
Kessler was previously convicted under an anti-racism law almost twenty years ago and received a short prison sentence for “comparing Jewish ritual slaughter methods to Nazi practices,” a conviction already questionable in and of itself.
Kessler sued over a dozen Facebook commenters over their 2015 statements. The unnamed man convicted of liking comments was the only defendant found guilty without actually posting his own Facebook comments. The court ruled that “[b]y clicking the like button, ‘the defendant clearly endorsed the unseemly content and made it his own,’” as noted by the Guardian.
The court also determined that the defendant had insulted Kessler’s “honor” and, by liking the “unproven” comments, exposed their content to large numbers of people. The court ruled the defendant failed to prove the allegations were true.
The comment-liking defendant was fined 4,000 Swiss francs ($4,129 USD). Amr Abdelaziz, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said those convicted can appeal but it’s unlikely they will put in the time and resources to do so.
Though the conviction was made by a lower court, Abdelaziz believes it could still have profound implications across the country. He said the court needs to clarify whether liking Facebook comments “should be given the same weight as other forms of speech more commonly cited in defamation cases,” the Guardian reported.
“If the courts want to prosecute people for likes on Facebook, we could easily need to triple the number of judges in this country,” Abdelaziz said. “This could also obviously easily become an assault on the freedom of expression.”