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Costa Rica constitutional court rules in favor of state-run company’s right to block Facebook users

July 31, 2014

A ruling issued last month by Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, could set a precedent by allowing companies to block from their Facebook profiles users who post comments that affect the companies’ commercial interests.

The ruling responded to a complaint by a citizen who was blocked from the Facebook page of Kölbi, the telecommunications subsidiary of state-owned Costa Rica Electricity Institute (ICE), for posting comments suggesting false advertising. The plaintiff claimed ICE’s ban affected his freedom of expression.

In its defense ICE argued the plaintiff violated the company’s Facebook code of conduct by posting inappropriate comments and promoting other telecom companies.

Sala IV justices stated that they were unable to confirm the allegations of false advertising, and that ICE, despite being a public agency, acted in its commercial role through their telecommunications brand Kölbi.

“For that reason, and from a business perspective, blocking the user cannot be considered suppression or limitation of the freedom of opinion,” justices ruled.

They also said the comments were posted on Kölbi’s Facebook profile, and not on the plaintiff’s own page, therefore the company has the right to regulate content to protect their commercial rights.

Justices also said that even if a Facebook profile is open to the public, it does not enable the plantiff to post comments discrediting Kölbi’s advertising messages. They also recommended the plaintiff refer directly to Facebook regarding international standards of alleged false advertising.

ICE officials said they communicated to the user in an email the reasons for blocking him, and he had the opportunity to challenge the decision at the Telecommunications Superintendency.

The ruling is the first of its kind in Costa Rica related to a publication on a business Facebook page. Therefore, it is the first legal precedent that could influence how similar cases are resolved in the future, attorneys at the San José-based law firm Ferris & Asociados said.

The Sala IV in December 2012 ruled in favor of a plaintiff in a similar claim, but the case involved the blocking of a user on the Facebook profile of a government agency. That claim was filed by a citizen who was blocked from the Casa Presidencial Facebook page for posting alleged inapropiate remarks against then-President Laura Chinchilla.

At the time, justices said the ban “infringed the plaintiff’s rights to freely express his opinion regarding a public agency’s [the Presidency] post.”

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