German court hears Syrian’s ‘selfie with Merkel’ case against Facebook

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A German court holds its first hearing in the case of a Syrian refugee who is suing Facebook after the social networking site declined to remove posts linking him to crimes and militant attacks.

WUERZBURG, GERMANY (FEBRUARY 6, 2017) (REUTERS) – A German court on Monday (February 6) held its first hearing in the case of a Syrian refugee who is suing Facebook after the social networking site declined to remove all posts linking him to crimes and militant attacks.

The posts feature 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 the setting on fire of a homeless man in December by six migrants at an underground station in Berlin.

The case is being closely watched as Germany, a fierce 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.

Modamani told Reuters by phone from Wuerzburg that there were people trying to harm the reputation of the refugees and they are using Facebook.

A spokesman for Facebook said the company had already removed two defamatory posts reported by Modamani’s lawyer but could not simply disable all content related to the pictures. Facebook was open to a case by case approach, the spokesman said.

But Modamani’s lawyer said that was not enough. “We want Facebook to delete the all content which is still online,” Chan-jo Jun said, “but most of all, we want Facebook to delete this sort of content whenever it is reported.”

He said that although the original posts have been deleted and that users accessing the page via a German IP-address, will receive an error message. All other users, outside of Germany or anybody using a proxy, can continue accessing this content.

Facebook said it had asked Modamani and his legal team to point to posts and content that could amount to defamation and that it was willing to look into each case separately.

One post still shared on Facebook shows Modamani taking a selfie with Merkel against the backdrop of a homeless man on fire at an underground station in Berlin with the caption: “So that ‘cold country’ finally has warmth under its behind”.


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