Facebook could face further legal action following revenge porn case

15 Jan 2018236 Views

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Facebook on a laptop. Image: Alexey Boldin/Shutterstock

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A landmark settlement could mean further legal troubles for Facebook.

Last week, Facebook successfully settled out of court with a 14-year-old girl whose nude image had been posted on the website numerous times. The girl, who is from Northern Ireland, brought the action against Facebook after a nude photo was posted on a ‘shame page’ on the platform.

A lawyer for the teenager, Pearse MacDermott, said the incident had a detrimental effect on the girl’s mental health. MacDermott also said that the police investigation into the matter took a long time, adding that by the time authorities began looking into the matter, they could no longer substantiate who posted the photographs.

The Belfast Telegraph reported that the girl reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with Facebook, in a case that MacDermott said has “moved the goalposts” in terms of social media platforms’ response to abusive posts.

She had sued the company for misuse of private information, damages, negligence and breach of the Data Protection Act.

MacDermott noted that the incident began in 2014, and said Facebook “may have improved their game since then”, but it was difficult to see why the issue was not resolved faster.

A major issue

Libel lawyer Paul Tweed told the BBC that revenge porn is a “major social problem”. Tweed noted that his firm had been inundated with inquiries since the settlement was announced.

He added: “The difficulty we have in these cases is that I would like to be able to say to them, ‘Look, there’s not a chance that Facebook, or any of the social networking giants, will allow publication of such photographs or images.’

“I can’t do that. And the difficulty here is that once publication has been made, it’s often too late.”

In a statement, Facebook said: “For legal reasons, we are only at liberty to state that no judgment has been rendered in this case and that there has been no determination of any actual or potential liability for Facebook.”

Revenge porn strategy

Facebook has been testing a method of revenge porn prevention in several countries, including Australia, involving the voluntary submission of images, which are then hashed. If someone tries to upload the same image, the same hash value will be present and the upload halted.

The company also launched a series of tools last year with its content moderation team to report intimate images uploaded without the subject’s consent.

If there are more legal proceedings taken in Europe against the likes of Facebook and Twitter, the majority of these cases will be heard in Irish courts due to the location of the companies’ European headquarters in Dublin.

Facebook on a laptop. Image: Alexey Boldin/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com