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German Court Rejects Injunction for Facebook in Syrian Selfie Case

March 7, 2017, 3:22 PM UTC
Syrian Refugee Sues Facebook Over Misused Photos
WURZBURG, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 06: The Syrian refugee Anas Modamani speaks to the media after the court session over his lawsuit against Facebook at the Landgericht courthouse on February 6, 2017 in Wurzburg, Germany. Modamani is suing Facebook over selfie photos of himself with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he says were misused by Facebook users accusing him of being a terrorist or guilty of other crimes and that Facebook refused to remove. This is the first time Facebook is being taken to court in Germany. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Thomas Lohnes—Getty Images

A German court rejected a temporary injunction against Facebook on Tuesday in a case brought by a Syrian refugee who sued the social networking site for failing to remove faked posts linking him to crimes and militant attacks.

The Wuerzburg district court said in a preliminary ruling that Facebook (FB) is neither a “perpetrator nor a participant” in what it said was “indisputable defamation” by Facebook users, but simply acting as a hosting provider that is not responsible for pre-emptively blocking offensive content under European law.

The posts in dispute featured a picture showing Anas Modamani, a 19-year-old from Damascus, taking a selfie with Chancellor Angela Merkel in September 2015 at a refugee shelter in the Berlin district of Spandau.

Modamani’s image was subsequently shared on Facebook on anonymous accounts, alongside posts falsely claiming he was responsible for the Brussels Airport bombing of March 2016 and setting on fire a homeless man in December last year by six migrants at an underground station in Berlin. The case has been closely watched as Germany, a frequent critic of Facebook, is preparing legislation to force the social networking website to remove “hate speech” from its web pages within 24 hours or face fines.

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In a statement following the decision, Facebook expressed concern for Modamani’s predicament but said the court’s ruling showed the company acted quickly to block access to defamatory postings, once they had been reported by Modamani’s lawyer.

After the ruling, Modamani’s lawyer in the case, Chan-jo Jun, told a news conference he was disappointed such imagery continued to circulate online and more must be done to force Facebook to delete hate-filled content on its own accord.

“We have to decide whether we want to accept that Facebook can basically do whatever it wants or whether German law, and above all the removal of illegal contents in Germany, will be enforced. If we want that we need new laws,” Jun said.

The country is on alert for a tide of populist propaganda which has so far failed to materialize ahead of national elections set for September. Tuesday’s decision is subject to appeal within one month of the yet-to-be-published written judgment, a court statement said. Jun declined to say whether an appeal was planned, saying the decision remained up to his client.