Facebook obliges its users to log into the social network with real names – according to the Munich Higher Regional Court, this could be legal. And that although people in Germany should actually be able to communicate anonymously.
Preliminary evidence from two appeals proceedings at the Munich Higher Regional Court suggests that Facebook can block users who register with fantasy names. The court changed its previous preliminary assessment on Tuesday. If it initially looked bad for the so-called real name requirement, the Senate is now leaning more in their favor. The court plans to announce the decisions in both proceedings at the end of October.
Opponents of a real name requirement argue that it prevents dissidents and persecuted minorities from expressing themselves freely. If they had to use real names, they would be exposed to attacks, stalking or bullying. In addition, people would often want to communicate things anonymously online, for example when asking questions about symptoms of illness or topics such as abortion in forums. Facebook is one of the few major social media platforms that force users to log in under their real names.
The background to the two proceedings in Munich is the question of whether passages from the Telemedia Act apply in the current cases or not. The law says that service providers must allow anonymous and pseudonymous use. This is what the two plaintiffs, who used fantasy names, rely on, which is why Facebook blocked their profiles. The regional courts of Traunstein and Ingolstadt had taken opposing views. In both cases the OLG has to decide. Other courts have declared the real name requirement unlawful, such as the Berlin Court of Appeal at the beginning of the year.
In the first case before the Munich Higher Regional Court, Facebook blocked a man’s user account until he used his real name. At the time, the Traunstein Regional Court found that Facebook had a legitimate interest in users appearing under their real name, because that increased the inhibition threshold for insults, threats and hateful posts. However, it is controversial whether the use of social media under a pseudonym actually lowers this inhibition threshold. When the user posted a video about black cannibals and a dancing Adolf Hitler with the comment “Weekend yeah :-)” a little later, Facebook blocked his account again for violating their community standards. According to the preliminary information from the second instance, this could also be legal.
In the second case, the Ingolstadt Regional Court ruled the opposite after a lawsuit filed by a woman whose profile was blocked because of the use of a pseudonym. The judges referred to the Telemedia Act, which their colleagues from Munich probably do not see as decisive. You tend to agree with Facebook’s interpretation: that the corresponding passage of the law no longer obliges the company after the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018.