German court rules against Syrian refugee in Facebook fake news case

Modamani, who escaped from Syria and moved to Germany in 2015, became famous when he posted a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on social media. "If we want that we need new laws", Mr Jun said.

Online trolls have repeatedly posted doctored images and wrongful statements that accuse 19-year-old Anas Modamani of having committed Islamist attacks or violent crimes, including setting fire to a homeless man in Berlin last Christmas.

In January, Modamani's lawyer filed a preliminary injunction against Facebook Europe, "seeking to prevent Facebook from publishing the slanderous image of the Syrian refugee Anas Modamani in the context of terrorist attacks".

Chan-jo Jun, Modamani's lawyer argued that Facebook had a legal obligation to remove defamatory content that violates German law, adding that malicious content about his client remained online, despite repeated complaints to remove it.

They argued Facebook could use its algorithms to automatically identify them, just as it does to take down copyrighted music or images with nudity. The judge said that he would not authorise an interim injunction blocking the content as there was no sufficient evidence to indicate that it can be accessed by a regular Facebook user in Germany, or that Modamani would be further harmed by it.

The court hearing starts at 1230 GMT in the southern German city of Wurzburg.

Facebook voiced sympathy for Modamani's "difficult situation" but greeted the court's position that legal action was "not the most effective way to resolve the situation".

Facebook said it was pleased with the result and will continue to meet obligations under German law.

Jun past year launched legal action against Facebook in Munich, accusing its executives of condoning incitement of hate and violence.

Users have cut and pasted Modamani's picture into "wanted" posters and on fake news reports, typically alleging that the refugee made famous by the Merkel selfie had turned out to be a terrorist.

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.

The decision is subject to appeal, a court statement said. The photo quickly spread across Facebook and other social sites.

  • Joanne Flowers