Facebook's revenge porn trial: What will the consequences be?


Case of 14-year-old girl from Belfast 'could open the floodgates for other civil cases', warns lawyer

In Depth
Monday, October 10, 2016 - 9:55am

A legal case alleging that Facebook is liable for photos published on its website could radically change the way in which social media companies deal with explicit images.

What does the case involve?

A 14-year-old girl from Belfast is taking Facebook to court, alleging that the company is liable for the publication of a naked picture of her posted repeatedly on a "shame page" on the social network, as an act of revenge.

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, alleges misuse of private information, negligence and breach of the Data Protection Act by Facebook.

Last week Northern Ireland's high court rejected Facebook's attempt to have the case thrown out and a trial will begin early next year.

Is this a common problem?

Since 2012, Facebook has acted against so-called "revenge pornography" and "sextortion", removing nude images when they are reported.

However, "recent events have shown just how difficult it is for Facebook to navigate the precarious path between censorship and protection, openness and responsibility", says The Guardian.

Last month the company faced heavy criticism after it repeatedly removed the iconic photograph of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam taken by Nick Ut in 1972.

What could the consequences of the trial be?

Potentially massive. The case has already resulted in "victims of revenge pornography seeking advice about whether they too could have grounds for legal action", says . They may also seek damages.

"A case like this risks opening the floodgates for other civil cases to be taken against Facebook and other social media sites," says media lawyer Paul Tweed.

The suit also raises wider questions over whether Facebook is really just a platform for third-party content or whether it should instead be deemed, as many argue, a news and content publisher – which would make it accountable for images on its website.

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