Opinion: Thumbs down for the Facebook refugee verdict | Opinion | DW | 07.03.2017
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Opinion: Thumbs down for the Facebook refugee verdict

Anas Modamani has lost his injunction lawsuit against internet giant Facebook over fake posts about him. It was a bad decision, DW's Martin Muno writes, but that wasn't the court's fault.

The court's grounds were clear: The plaintiff's claims of defamation were undeniable, but Facebook is "neither a perpetrator nor a participant in the smears." The posts were the "third-party content of the platform's users."

In the summer of 2015, Syrian refugee Anas Modamani took a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The photo was widely published, and Modamani quickly became a star. But, since then, numerous photomontages have been posted on Facebook falsely claiming that Modamani was linked to any number of terror attacks and crimes. Modamani went to court to force Facebook to find and delete fake news stories about him. He lost the suit, and his injunction was denied.

Kommentarbild Muno Martin

DW's Martin Muno

The decision contradicts all sense of justice. Nevertheless, Facebook's terms and conditions and Germany's legal guidelines left judges at the Würzburg District Court with no other choice. Facebook may be the world's largest social media platform, but it has no editorial responsibilities - unlike editors-in-chief who are liable for fake news on their online portals, newspapers or television shows.

'The dumber the story'

Facebook's business model is not based on disseminating journalistically sound content. In fact journalist Friedrich Küppersbusch describes the model as being quite the opposite: "The dumber the story the more money you can earn with it." Anas Modamani isn't the only person to have had this problem. German Green Party politician Renate Künast has also had her issues. In December 2016, several radical rightwing Facebook posts falsely attributed a defamatory quote to her. And despite having quickly provided Facebook administrators with the posts' links, it took days before they were deleted.

The social media outlet has begun to test labels for fake news in the United States, and also intends to do so soon in Germany. That is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. Whenever privacy rights are affected - as in Modamani's case - the only possible solution is to delete such posts. If Facebook is unwilling to do so voluntarily, then the company must be obliged to legally.

This is not about censorship: It is about clarifying the fact that hate speech and slander do not fall under the protection of freedom of speech and opinion.

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