Kairos / Google-YouTube: where do we stand?

Alice Magos

Many of you supported us when, last July, we decided to launch a lawsuit against Google because of the censorship we are subject to from YouTube.

The time has come to keep you informed of the progress of this case.

Some chronological landmarks 

- July 20, 2021: court citation(1) is launched against Google Ireland (responsible for YouTube in Belgium); we asked for the reinstatement of 3 censored videos and, provisionally and under the benefit of urgency, the reinstatement of the video of the « Great Debate » of June 10, 2021

- November 8, 2021: first court decision at(2): this decision rejects our request to put the « Great Debate » video back online

- November 2021: change of lawyer: our lawyer Jacques Englebert, finding himself in a conflict of interest situation, decides to drop the case. To take over the file, we call on Florien Ernotte, a specialist in social network law

- December 14, 2021: closure of our YouTube channel: following this closure, we decide to introduce a new request to the provisional, aiming at, in the urgency, obtaining the reopening of our YouTube channel

- May 2, 2022: second court decision on provisional(3) This decision rejects our request to reopen our YouTube channel. It appears from this decision that, although the court refuses to open the question of the right to freedom of expression in the specific framework of the provisional proceedings, it does not consider our arguments on the question to be far-fetched, and will consider them carefully in the framework of the case on the merits to be pleaded next autumn (read in particular § 23 of the decision, which seems encouraging)

- May-June 2022: fine-tuning of our arguments: we hope, in particular with the help of a network of Belgian and foreign lawyers, to further refine our arguments in this highly technical trial

On the financial side 

Your donations amounted to a total of 22.998 € to support us in this procedure. Of this amount, 18.332,60 € have been used so far to pay our lawyers and court fees. We will undoubtedly appeal for your support again during the month of June or September.

We would like to remind you of the importance of this procedure 

Beyond the particular case of the Kairos videos censored by YouTube, and even beyond the problem of managing the pandemic, it is the central question of maintaining the right to freedom of expression in our democratic societies that is at the heart of the debate. While we can see that traditional newspapers are increasingly relaying only the dominant currents of thought, it is often through social networks that a truly independent journalism can be heard, and bring a dissonant voice so essential to our democracies. However, the social networking platforms arrogate to themselves, via their contractual provisions, the unilateral right to block any broadcast that does not fit into what they consider appropriate. So far, the States seem to give them this exorbitant right, without any real possibility of appeal. When you think about it, it is in the long run any possibility to organize a critical discourse, and to launch social movements on a more or less large scale, which is in fact yielded to the goodwill of some technological multinationals…

The central issue of this procedure is therefore to convince the court that social networking platforms can no longer hide behind their contractual provisions, but must submit to the law of the States relating in particular to freedom of expression. From a legal point of view, a decision that would say that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights also applies to social networking platforms would have an enormous impact, in the whole European area and even beyond.

You will note that the application of such an article 10 implies the existence of quite necessary limits to the freedom of expression: there is no question of letting proven fake news or hate speech circulate on the net, but No question either of letting Google & Co. set themselves up as censors of what can be discussed ‑or not- in our democracies!

That is why we want to continue this legal battle.

Following our lead, other media outlets and individuals who were also censored for critical comments about the management of the pandemic are preparing to follow suit and initiate similar legal proceedings. We are joining forces with them to make the best case to win this important legal battle.

We take this opportunity to invite you not to hesitate to put us in contact with censored people who would be interested in defending themselves in this context.

Thanks to Damien for his help

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