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Freedom in the digital age
Art. 5, 10

Goliathwatch: Facebook must not arbitrarily block pages and users

In February 2022, Facebook blocked the page of the Hamburg-based NGO Goliathwatch. The non-profit organization campaigns with actions and demonstrations to limit the power of large corporations like Meta.

In February 2022, Facebook blocked the page of the Hamburg-based NGO Goliathwatch. The non-profit organization uses actions and demonstrations to campaign for limiting the power of large corporations like Meta. Goliathwatch was not informed by Facebook that its page would be blocked - nor were specific reasons given for the block. An urgent legal protection procedure by the GFF has already achieved initial success and the page is once again accessible. However, this is not quite the end of the story. Together with Goliathwatch and the law firm Hausfeld, we are going to court to ensure that Goliathwatch cannot be arbitrarily blocked again.

To what extent and under which circumstances may social platforms block or even delete content or users? This question became even more urgent at the beginning of 2022: In February of this year, Facebook blocked the page of the non-profit NGO Goliathwatch. The company did not inform the organization about this step in advance. The reason given was also vague: Facebook accused Goliathwatch of disseminating "fraudulent, misleading or illegal information". The group did not provide more detailed information about what the accusations were based on.

"Goliathwatch has demonstrated against the power of social networks like Facebook and has now experienced this power first hand. Goliathwatch still does not know what Facebook's accusation is and accordingly cannot defend itself against it. That would be bad enough under normal circumstances. But the fact that this is about the blocking of a Facebook-critical NGO gives the matter a very special explosiveness," says GFF lawyer and project coordinator Jürgen Bering.


As a first success of the proceedings, Facebook initially unblocked a copy of the page under a new URL that was difficult to access. In the meantime, Facebook has also unblocked the actual Goliathwatch page.

Already the Hamburg Regional Court (OLG) had ruled in our favour that the blocking of the website was unlawful. However, the court rejected our request for future injunctions because our request was not specific enough. Usually, for these applications, the posts that led to the blocking are simply named. However, Facebook itself never said in the proceedings for what reasons the page was blocked.

In July, the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court (LG) issued the key decision. It confirmed that high hurdles must be met before a page can be blocked. These include, as with private individuals, that a hearing must take place before a block is imposed and that reasons must be given for a block. Finally, a block must also pursue a factual and objectively verifiable reason.

In cases like Goliathwatch, this means that Facebook is prevented from arbitrarily excluding individual organisations by merely referring to its terms and conditions. The network should have told Goliathwatch the allegations and given it a chance to defend itself. "This is a clear victory for freedom of expression," says Jürgen Bering, project coordinator at the GFF. "With this decision, the Hamburg Higher Regional Court sustainably strengthens the rights of non-governmental organisations and companies and puts social networks in their place."

In addition, the OLG also made it clear that Facebook cannot avoid the sharp sword of an injunction simply by not giving reasons - as in the case of Goliathwatch. Thus, the OLG corrected the decision of the LG and also granted our application for an injunction. This means that Facebook will have to pay penalties if it arbitrarily blocks again.


In the recently published study "Binding social networks to fundamental rights" (in German, PDF), Bering examines what obligations arise from fundamental rights for platforms vis-à-vis users. In 2021, the German Federal Supreme Court had already ruled that social networks must respect the fundamental rights of private users due to the network's influence. The GFF study now shows that companies must also take the fundamental rights of their users into account when they regulate the conditions under which people can access their network and how they can communicate there.

Facebook must respect the freedom of expression of its users even if they express criticism of the platform. Communication is increasingly taking place on the web and in social networks in particular. This implies a social relevance, so that platforms must not arbitrarily and unilaterally deny individuals or organizations this means of communication.

Digitalkonzerne müssen an Grundrechte gebunden sein

In der kürzlich veröffentlichten Studie „Grundrechtsbindung sozialer Netzwerke“ untersucht Bering, welche Pflichten sich aus den Grundrechten für Plattformen gegenüber Nutzer*innen ergeben. 2021 hatte der Bundesgerichtshof bereits entschieden, dass soziale Netzwerke aufgrund ihres Einflusses die Grundrechte private Nutzer*innen achten müssen. Die GFF-Studie zeigt nun, dass auch Unternehmen die Grundrechte ihrer Nutzer*innen berücksichtigen müssen, wenn sie regeln, unter welchen Bedingungen Menschen Zugang zu ihrem Netzwerk bekommen und wie sie dort kommunizieren dürfen.

Facebook muss die Meinungsfreiheit seiner Nutzer*innen auch dann achten, wenn sie sich kritisch gegenüber der Plattform äußern. Kommunikation findet immer stärker im Netz und insbesondere in sozialen Netzwerken statt. Daraus leitet sich eine gesellschaftliche Relevanz ab, sodass Plattformen einzelnen Personen oder Organisationen diesen Weg der Kommunikation nicht eigenmächtig und willkürlich verwehren dürfen.

Weitere Informationen

  • Webinar zur Auftaktstudie “Grundrechte in sozialen Netzwerken” mit Jürgen Bering, Benjamin Raue, Jeanette Hofmann und Sina Laubenstein (YouTube)

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Webinar zur Auftaktstudie “Grundrechte in sozialen Netzwerken” mit Jürgen Bering, Benjamin Raue, Jeanette Hofmann und Sina Laubenstein
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