Facebook Wins Fake News Court Battle With Syrian Refugee

A Syrian refugee in Germany lost his injunction suit against Facebook, in which he sought to make Facebook responsible for filtering out content that falsely linked him to crime or terrorism.

A court in Würzburg on Tuesday ruled that the social media giant does not have to actively seek out and remove the posts. According to German news agency DPA, the judge ruled that Facebook as a platform is not responsible for libelous content if it is posted by third parties.

Anas Modamani, the 19-year-old plaintiff, took a selfie at a refugee shelter he was staying at with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015. The picture became famous through social media, but before long, it started appearing in news hoaxes. Images were shared widely on Facebook that showed Modamani’s selfies alongside pictures of suspects of terrorist attacks and assaults in Brussels and Berlin in posts falsely claiming that they are the same person.

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company has already removed defamatory posts that were pointed out by Modamani’s attorney and will continue to do so.

“We appreciate that this is a very difficult situation for Mr Modamani,” the spokesperson said. “We are pleased that the Court shares our view that legal action was not merited or the most effective way to resolve the situation.”

When Modamani and Facebook first went to court in February, his lawyer, Chan-jo Jun, argued that the company had the ability to preemptively filter and remove libelous posts that used Modamani’s selfie. Facebook countered that there is no such technology.

Following the ruling, Jun tweeted on Tuesday in German that it “must become more costly to break the law.”

Facebook has faced criticism in the U.S. and Europe for letting the circulation fake news potentially influence elections. German lawmakers even spoke of a law that could fine Facebook up to €500,000 for any fake news story that is not removed within 24 hours of being reported.

In January, the company rolled out tools in Germany that alert users of suspicious sources and allow them to flag false reports. The same tools were made available the month before in the U.S.. Facebook has not made any statements on how effective the tools have been so far.

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