Legal action to be taken against Facebook trolls
As the regular Facebook ‘call out’ editor on Women’s Views on News, I am beginning to think I should set up a monthly column.
This time, Facebook has refused to provide details of abusers to a woman who has been savagely abused by online Facebook trolls.
Nicola Brookes decided to show support for someone else – Frankie Cocozza, a contestant on the TV programme the X-Factor – by posting a positive message on his facebook page to counteract the online bullying comments he was receiving, the Telegraph reported this week.
Ms Brookes then found herself subjected to a barrage of abusive posts which included death threats, the setting up of a fake profile which portrayed her as a paedophile, and her home address published online.
As with others who have found themselves in this situation, Ms Brookes reported this stalking behaviour to the police and Facebook, neither of whom took any action.
Infuriated, Ms Brookes has now taken legal action against Facebook to obtain information that would identify the abusers so she can bring a case against them.
Rupinder Bains, a partner at Bains Cohen, the legal firm bringing the action on a pro bono basis, said it appeared police were less willing to investigate harassment when it was online and did not involve public figures.
Ms Bains, who recently made representation to the House of Lords for the 2012 National Stalking Day, pointed to a survey carried out by her firm into cyberstalking.
This found that 53% of the 16-40 year olds surveyed had received abusive messages online but only 14% had reported the issue to the police, with almost 80% feeling that the police ‘would not take their matter seriously’.
To address the usual ‘freedom of speech arguments’ that are routinely served up by various commentators in reaction to pesky people such as Ms Brookes’ can we please agree that the same freedom of speech rules apply both offline and online?
For example, if these abusers stood in the middle of a town centre and started shouting that Ms Brookes was a paedophile and that she should die, they would be arrested immediately for inciting hatred against someone, would they not?
So why is online abuse any different?
Given that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter attract a population density that matches or outstrips physical countries (Facebook reported 901 million users at end of March 2012, three times the size of the US, with Twitter boasting 140 million active users) we need to recognise that posts on these communication mediums can reach several million more people than ‘the street corner shouter’.
By this reckoning then, online abuse is much more damaging, but at the moment is seen as much less important by the police.
As I have stated before, the developers of online social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that their creations are some kind of abstract concept immune to the laws of the land.
We need a social media protocol that allows freedom of expression that not only adheres to the law, but also respects people’s rights to be free from online abuse. And we need it fast.
As it stands, Facebook has issued the following statement, reported on the BBC website:
“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people that use our service.
“Unlike other websites and forums Facebook has a real name culture, which provides greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment.
“We are clear that there is no place for bullying or harassment on Facebook and we respond aggressively to reports of potential abuse.”
This is another example of the boys who run Facebook issuing a self-serving statement that bears no relation to the actual experience of people who suffer online abuse on its platform.
And, of course, there is always the subjective stance taken by the Facebook boys, who, for example, do not see rape jokes as abusive and indeed encourage this kind of joke to be clearly marked as ‘humour’.
Meanwhile, a lot of interested parties will be watching Ms Brookes’ case, and she deserves all credit for her bravery.
Nicola Brookes wins legal challenge: latest news here.