(Adds details on temporary injunction request)
By Eric Auchard
WUERZBURG, Germany, March 7 A German court
rejected a temporary injunction against Facebook on
Tuesday in a case brought by a Syrian refugee who sued the
social networking site for failing to remove faked posts linking
him to crimes and militant attacks.
The Wuerzburg district court said in a preliminary ruling
that Facebook is neither a "perpetrator nor a participant" in
what it said was "undisputable defamation" by Facebook users,
but simply acting as a hosting provider that is not responsible
for pre-emptively blocking offensive content under European law.
The posts in dispute featured 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
setting on fire a homeless man in December last year by six
migrants at an underground station in Berlin.
The court rejected the need for a temporary injunction
sought by Modamani to require Facebook to go beyond measures the
company had taken to block defamatory images of him for Facebook
users in Germany using geo-blocking technology.
In a statement following the decision, Facebook expressed
concern for Modamani's predicament but said the court's ruling
showed the company acted quickly to block access to defamatory
postings, once they had been reported by Modamani's lawyer.
The case has been closely watched as Germany, a frequent
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.
After the ruling, Modamani's lawyer in the case, Chan-jo
Jun, told a news conference he was disappointed such imagery
continued to circulate online and more must be done to force
Facebook to delete hate-filled content on its own accord.
"We have to decide whether we want to accept that Facebook
can basically do whatever it wants or whether German law, and
above all the removal of illegal contents in Germany, will be
enforced. If we want that we need new laws," Jun said.
Modamani's complaint maintained that defamatory images based
on the selfie posted to Facebook were still viewable online
outside of Germany, or by users within German using a
sophisticated Tor browser.
But the court found that the risk of average German users
seeing the illegal content was not sufficiently credible and
therefore a temporary injunction was unnecessary at this stage.
The ruling said there remained a legitimate issue over
whether it was technically feasible for Facebook to do more to
block such images, but this would require testimony by experts.
Tuesday's decision is subject to appeal within one month of
the yet-to-be-published written judgment, a court statement
said. Jun declined to say whether an appeal was planned, saying
the decision remained up to his client.
(Reporting by Eric Auchard; additional reporting by Michael
Serr in Wuerzburg; Editing by Christoph Steitz and Susan Thomas)