BERLIN (AP) — A German official who won a defamation case against Twitter this week dedicated his court victory Thursday to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert targeted by the microblogging site’s new owner, Elon Musk .
A regional court in Frankfurt ruled on Wednesday that Twitter must remove false or defamatory tweets about Michael Blume, who is the commissioner against anti-Semitism for the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany. Basically, the court clarified that the order applies not only to identical positions, but also to all that are substantially similar.
Blume told The Associated Press that he wanted to dedicate the success of his case to Fauci, to send a signal that Twitter “can’t just let people be hounded and stalked for years.”
“When even Elon Musk himself trolls a scientist, then it’s disturbing,” he said. “I believe that is simply not true.”
Musk recently called for Fauci, a leading figure in the US government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to be prosecuted. His tweet was warmly applauded by users opposed to the US response to the pandemic, with some posting images of Fauci wearing prison gear or in a coffin.
Blume had sued Twitter in Germany after users of the platform suggested he had “a connection to paedophilia”, committed adultery and was involved in “anti-Semitic scandals”. “, according to a statement from the court. Blume dismisses all of these claims as false and says he took action after some Twitter users also targeted his wife and children.
The judges concluded that Twitter should have removed these comments as soon as it was informed. While descriptions of Blume as an anti-Semite could be covered by free speech laws, the court ruled that in this case they were not intended to contribute to public debate but were clearly intended as part of a emotional smear campaign. Failure to remove these posts in the future can result in fines of up to 250,000 euros ($268,000).
The ruling does not require Twitter to monitor everything its 237 million users write, but the company must remove similar defamatory tweets, the court said.
He also ruled that posts that Blume was listed in the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles’ “World’s Top 10 for Antisemitism” last year were authorized statements of fact. The list was sharply criticized by German officials and Jewish representatives in Germany.
“Regardless of whether (Blume’s) inclusion on the list is warranted, information about it can be provided,” the court said. “The Anti-Semitism Commissioner must defend himself against this in the battle for public opinion.”
Blume’s attorney, Chan-jo Jun, said the ruling provides others who have faced similar defamations on Twitter with legal ammunition to bring their own lawsuits against the company.
The verdict can be appealed within one month.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.