herald

Monday 22 January 2018

Case over nude photo of girl (14) may lead to an avalanche of claims

Facebook contested action. Photo: Alexander Kirch
Facebook contested action. Photo: Alexander Kirch

Social media giants are reviewing their operating policies and legal protections amid fears of a multi-million euro avalanche of damages claims.

It comes after an action taken by a 14-year-old Northern Irish girl over a nude photo.

The schoolgirl sued social media giant Facebook over the inclusion of the naked photo on a so-called "shame page".

She also took legal action against the individual who posted the picture online.

Facebook vehemently contested the landmark action but failed in a bid two years ago to have the claim struck out.

The lawsuit was subject to a confidential settlement before the High Court in Belfast on Tuesday.

However, it is being described as a landmark action given that the teenager claimed the social media giant, as well as the individual who posted the image, were responsible.

Until now, social media firms have attempted to insist that responsibility rested with the platform user rather than the platform itself.

The girl claimed the image was obtained after she was blackmailed and was then published as a form of revenge porn.

Experts have warned that the case - the first of its kind in the world - could have enormous implications for how social media giants operate.

Barrister William Bulman said the case represented the legal system catching up with the digital revolution and social media.

Implications

"In my opinion, it has potentially enormous implications, not just in terms of the protection of people within the social media community, but also for things such as data protection, privacy and potentially even cyber crime over the hacking of images and their use without permission," he said.

Facebook told the Herald it was "for legal reasons un- able to comment on this case".

However, it has taken major steps since 2012 to tackle such issues as revenge porn, which is technically known as NCII (non-consensual intimate images).

Facebook launched new safety tools last March to more speedily report content that should not be online and ensure it is more quickly removed from Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.

Ronan Murphy, of cyber security firm Smarttech, warned that people need to understand that all online activity is potentially sensitive.

"Every time we perform an action online, we are contributing to our digital footprint," he said.

"Unfortunately, the trading of personal data by organised online gangs has become one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world."

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