Syrian selfie refugee sues Facebook over murder posts

  • 14/01/2017
Germany facebook terror attacks fake news
He was accused of being responsible for terrorist attacks (file)

A Syrian refugee whose selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel went viral is suing Facebook for defamation, after the social networking site failed to take down a series of posts accusing him of being a militant and criminal.

Anas Modamani, a 19-year-old refugee from Damascus, was pictured in September 2015 taking a selfie with Ms Merkel during her visit to a refugee shelter in Berlin's Spandau district.

The image came to define Germany's response to the refugee crisis, when Ms Merkel opened the country's borders to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.

But in the following months Mr Modamani's image was shared on Facebook on a series of anonymous accounts, alongside posts claiming he was responsible for militant attacks and murder, including the Brussels Airport bombing of March 2016.

Facebook has repeatedly refused to take the posts down, saying they do not violate the company's rules, Mr Modamani's lawyer said.

"Whenever something happens in the news related to refugees, his picture reappears," Mr Modamani's lawyer, Mr Chan-jo Jun, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Facebook could not be reached immediately for comment by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A Facebook spokesperson told Britain's Guardian newspaper they had received a takedown request from Mr Jun "alleging that a specific item of content on our platform violates Mr Modamani's right of personality".

"Access to that reported content was quickly disabled, so we do not believe there is any basis for him to seek an injunction," the spokesperson said.

Mr Jun filed a preliminary injunction against Facebook Europe in December, and a court hearing is scheduled for Febuary 6 in Wurzburg, southern Germany, he said.

The case comes as Germany's justice ministry considers new policies to crack down on fake news by making Facebook and other social media companies criminally liable for failing to remove hate speech.

Facebook should be treated as a media company rather than a technology company, the justice minister said in November.

Mr Modamani now works in a fast-food restaurant in Berlin, his lawyer said.