A Swiss man is on trial for ‘liking’ Facebook posts that accused an animal rights activist of racism and anti-Semitism. The prosecution has accused him of defamation in the landmark case.
The 45-year-old defendant from Zurich is facing charges after becoming involved in an online argument within the animal rights community – by merely ‘liking’ eight Facebook posts.
Those posts accused Erwin Kessler, the president of the animal protection association Vereins gegen Tierfabriken, of racism and anti-Semitism.
Kessler has now pressed charges against the ‘liker’, citing defamation, Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported on Monday.
The prosecution claims that by ‘liking’ the posts, the defendant spread their content by making them visible to a larger audience. It also claims that the 45-year-old acted with intent to harm without justifiable cause.
However, the defendant’s attorney is expected to argue that Kessler has, in fact, been convicted of racial discrimination in the past and is currently pursuing eight other people in five similar cases.
The case was due to be heard in court on Monday, but was postponed until a later date.
If found guilty, the defendant could face a heavy fine and court costs.
Although the defamation case is a first for Switzerland, this is not the first time Facebook users have found themselves in court for clicking on the ‘like’ button.
In 2015, a Thai man was arrested for ‘liking’ a photoshopped image of the country’s king and sharing an infographic about a Thai corruption scandal.
Six years earlier, a former US prison guard in the state of Virginia alleged that he was terminated because he had ‘liked’ the page of the sheriff’s opponent in a political race. He filed a suit stating that Facebook ‘likes’ should be protected as free speech.
The judge ruled against the plaintiff, however, finding that ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient to merit constitutional protection because it doesn’t “involve actual statements,” but the plaintiff took the case to appeals court, where a different judge ruled that ‘likes’ should enjoy the same protection as other forms of expression.