Facebook is facing a number of lawsuits from victims of “revenge porn,” a leading libel lawyer has warned, after a teenager reached a settlement with the social networking site over naked images of her that were posted online.
The Belfast-based libel and privacy expert Paul Tweed has also told the Guardian his office was being “deluged” by inquiries from people who claim naked and compromising pictures had been posted on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
Tweed said this was in addition to a “very significant number of cases” his Belfast office was already dealing with in relation to complaints about revenge porn being posted on social networks.
“Because Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants have their European headquarters in Dublin most of these cases will be heard in the Dublin courts. There are quite a number pending and the settlement in the case last week at Belfast high court will undoubtedly have a bearing on them.”
Facebook reached a confidential settlement with a 14-year-old girl this week who sued the company after a photo of her was posted on a so-called “shame page” on the site. The teen's legal team took on the case after her photo appeared several times between November 2014 and January 2016. She alleged misuse of private information, negligence and breaching the Data Protection Act.
Her lawyers at McCann and McCann solicitors claimed the settlement had “moved the goalposts” in terms of how social media networks such as Facebook would have to respond to indecent and abusive messages and images being posted on their sites.
“The social networks’ presence in Dublin also means they are subject not only to Irish laws but also European privacy legislation, which entails they could be sued anywhere in Europe over this issue of so-called revenge porn,” they said.
Tweed said Facebook already has an algorithm that has removed naked images, after the site took down the image of the nine-year-old Vietnamese girl Kim Phuc running away from an American napalm attack in 1972.
“It was an algorithm that picked up that image and censored it initially and it is obvious that the same algorithm could easily be used to filter out naked pictures of people that are posted for more sinister reasons on Facebook. The network cannot argue it doesn’t have the power to filter out these images,” he said.
The international outrage forced Facebook to reinstate the image on its site.
Tweed said he was unable to reveal further details of the cases pending in the Irish Republic to protect the privacy of his clients. He established his own practice last summer and opened a new office after 39 years as a senior partner in the Johnsons law firm. Part of the reason for opening new premises and recruiting a larger legal team was due to the increase in the number of cases being taken against social media giants, he said.
Facebook said that it has developed new technological tools to help victims of so-called revenge porn and that the network takes the issue seriously.
A spokesperson for the social network site said that a “Report” element on Facebook could be used by victims. The Facebook spokesperson said that clicking on this and reporting the posting of intimate or indecent images would lead to new “specially trained representatives from our Community Operations team” to remove personal and offensive material.Facebook would use new “photo-matching technologies” to prevent the further sharing of images on the networks, the spokesperson said.
On the Belfast high court case this week, the Facebook spokesperson added: “This case has been ongoing for several years. 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.”