Facebook is facing legal action in Germany after failing to address concerns over the use of a selfie taken by a Syrian refugee. Anas Modamani is a 19-year old who gained minor recognition after taking a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While the picture had originally been to highlight the plight of refugees in Germany, it has been taken by fake news sites to spread propaganda instead.
Groups on Facebook were sharing the picture as proof of extremists infiltrating Europe, going as far as to caption the image as Merkel taking a selfie with a terrorist. Anas’ picture was also circulated as the perpetrator of the Brussels bombing and the lorry attack in Berlin.
The Syrian national had earlier thought of the selfie as a blessing, after it went viral and helped him find a foster family with which to stay. However, Anas is now regretting it and is also lamenting Facebook’s lack of action against fake news. According to the refugee, the social media network’s online reporting system refused to take down the fake news as it “is not against their standards”.
Anas has engaged a lawyer specialising in IT law to drag Facebook to court for failing to help keep his name in the clear. As an asylum seeker, the Syrian is worried that the false news surrounding his picture could potentially damage his chances at being allowed to remain in Germany.
Facebook, on its part, has been claiming that it will clamp down on fake news. The site has been asking users to report such news when it appears, but in this case looks to have failed to live up to the promise.
Pressure is also mounting on Facebook as the government is mulling new laws that would fine social media networks for failing to delete and censor fake news. German is due for general elections later this year, and is worried that outside interference could influence the vote as it did in the US last year.