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Facebook is making life absurdly difficult in German court

Facebook founder and CEO Zuckerberg delivers a speech at the awards ceremony of the newly established Axel Springer Award in Berlin
Reuters/Kay Nietfeld
Translation innovations needed.
By Joon Ian Wong
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Facebook is under fire in Germany. It’s facing lawsuits from German users and the German government is threatening it with hefty fines if it doesn’t deal with fake news and hate speech. The lawsuits reveal the sometimes absurd difficulties faced by German lawyers in getting Facebook to a courtroom, Bloomberg reports.

In one case in Berlin, a student’s account was closed without explanation, prompting legal action from the student. But Facebook told the court that it couldn’t understand the complaint since it was written in German. It required a €500 ($530) English translation to proceed, which the student’s lawyer said was a “hardly credible” request, given the millions of users it serves in Germany using German-language terms of service.

Another case, famous for involving a refugee, a selfie, and Angela Merkel, the court had difficulty getting the complaint seen by Facebook at all. The court had to serve papers to Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, in order to proceed with the case. But the court never got a response. The judge presiding over the case said: “I’m not sure we would have been able to make service in Ireland happen this year at all.”  The case proceeded after Facebook’s law firm in Hamburg got in touch with the court in Würzburg, Bavaria, after seeing widespread media coverage (paywall) of the case.

Facebook doesn’t report user numbers for Germany, although one Bloomberg estimate put it at 28 million users in 2016. Web traffic ranker SimilarWeb puts Facebook as the third most popular website in Germany, behind Google and YouTube.

Facebook could make a German address available to receive court papers, the lawyer representing the plaintiff in the selfie case said. That would certainly make it easier for Facebook to respond to its users in Germany. Quartz has asked Facebook if it plans to make a German address available for court correspondence.

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