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Facebook Sued in Germany for Selfie Linked to Fake News Stories about Terrorism

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With one selfie, a Syrian refugee has brought Facebook to a day of reckoning.

A German judge will soon decide what to do about Anas Modamani, who took a selfie with chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 and posted it on Facebook. The photo went viral as a symbol of Germany's open-door policy to refugees, but some fake news stories used the photo to link Modamani to terrorism.

Modamani, who sued for injunctive relief in Wurzburg, wants Facebook to prevent the photo from being shared and to delete all false news stories that have used it. Facebook's attorney told the judge it is not possible.

Billions of Postings

"There are billions of postings each day," said attorney Martin Munz. "You want us to employ a sort of wonder machine to detect each misuse. Such a machine doesn't exist."

Chan-jo Jun, Modamani's lawyer, said Facebook has the technical ability to identify and police photos on its site. It should be able to stop his client's photo from proliferating as well.

"If it's about breasts or child pornography, Facebook is very well able to detect all pictures," he said.

Judge Volkmar Seipel said the law has not kept up with all the questions raised by the case, and that the court may not be able to answer them all. He said he will issue a ruling by March 7, 2016.

In the meantime, German legislators are considering a law that would fine Facebook $500,000 a day for fake news stories if the company does not delete them promptly. Facebook, in response, has launched a fake-news filtering system ahead of the country's national elections.

"I Want Peace"

Facebook has also updated its Trending Topics feature, which offers links to popular subjects, to promote links to reliable news sources. Teaming up with news organizations such as the Washington Post, Facebook wants to offer curated news reports to its users.

During the two-hour hearing in Würzburg, the judge stopped the arguments and urged the parties to settle. They declined.

Modamani, for his part, said he just wants his life back.

"I want peace in my life," the 19 year old told reporters after the hearing. "Not everyone believes that. Many people hate me, but all I did was take a selfie with Ms. Merkel."

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