A German court on Tuesday rejected a case against Facebook brought by a Syrian refugee whose selfie with Chancellor Angela Merkel made him the target of racist trolls.
SWEDEN-BASED ARAL BALKAN, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST:
“I’m disappointed by this ruling.
Facebook is trying to have it both ways.
Facebook is a private enterprise and it wants us to think that it’s a public space.
If it was a public space, like a park, you go to a park and nail some photos to a tree, you have individual responsibility there.
But if posters start showing up at a mall, which is what Facebook is, and they don’t take them down, then they are responsible for that. That’s a private space by Facebook incorporated and they are directly benefiting, actually, from any content that is shared, in their space, in their shopping mall.
Unfortunately with this ruling, [it’s] very sad for the individual who’s involved here, who’s not getting any justice.
The core problem here is our public spaces are privately owned.”
The image of Anas Modamani , 19, has been repeatedly manipulated to link him to attacks or violent crimes, including a case in which juvenile delinquents set fire to a homeless man in Berlin last Christmas.
Modamani wanted the US social media giant, represented by Facebook Ireland Limited, to stop the spread of such defamatory fake news, which have been shared countless times.
Specifically, he wanted an injunction forcing Facebook to actively identify and remove such posts, rather than wait for users to flag them.
German news agency DPA reported that the court in Wurzburg ruled that Facebook itself had not not made the slanderous posts and therefore could not be forced to abide by a cease and desist order.
Modamani is represented by German lawyer Chan-jo Jun, who has previously launched legal actions against Facebook, demanding it stop the spread of racist hate speech and other content illegal under German law.
“It must become more costly to break the law,” the lawyer tweeted before the court ruling in the southern German city of Wurzburg.
Al Jazeera interviewed Modamani in February.
Then, he said that the photo had “changed my life”.
The first false post that Modamani could pinpoint was in March 2016, when his photo was purported to be of Najim Laachraoui, one of the attackers behind the Brussels bombings in March 2016; the false story claimed that Merkel “took a selfie with a terrorist”.
As months passed and more posts started appearing on Facebook, Modamani began legal proceedings, claiming Facebook had failed to take sufficient action against the defamatory posts he flagged.
“I cried when I saw it,” said Modamani “I want to live in peace in Germany. I fled from the war and bloodshed in Syria to live in safety … I was too afraid to leave my house after I saw what people wrote about me. This is not just my problem. It’s a problem of our time.”
With reporting by Stephanie Ott: @steffiott