Controversial Facebook case still in the balance.

A landmark decision was handed down in Northern Ireland with the High Court in Belfast deciding to award damages against social media giant Facebook.

Tread lightly

The case understandably generates strongly held opinions due to the sensitive nature of the topic. The case involved a Facebook page (Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators 2) which generated likes, shares and comments. The primary intention of the page is to ‘name and shame’ sex offenders. The ‘about’ section of the page is innocuous – ‘this page is an informational site to promote awareness’. As a result of his name and image being posted on the site, alongside various comments, the Plaintiff (a convicted sex offender) claimed he lived in fear of physical harm as a result of the posts.

Ruling

The High Court stated that Facebook and the creator of the page, Joseph McCloskey, were liable for misuse of private information. In addition, the High Court stated that McCloskey was liable for harassment of the Plaintiff due to the nature of the posts.

The High Court noted that Facebook should have been aware of McCloskey’s actions from previous litigation in 20121 (and ‘should have had the capacity, resources and knowledge to look for and to assess material’2. The High Court further noted that Facebook should have acted to delete the posts and in not doing so were in breach of misusing the private information of the Plaintiff.

Expectation of privacy

The High Court stated that the plaintiff had an expectation of privacy, even for offences committed in the past. When balancing Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights referring to freedom of expression, the High Court concluded that ‘the balance in each case depends on a detailed analysis’3. The Court determined that, ‘disclosure of spent criminal convictions would only be appropriate in very limited circumstances’4. In this case, the Facebook posts, ‘incited violence and hatred’5.

The Court awarded damages of £20,000 to the Plaintiff and perhaps opens the door for future cases against Facebook and other social media sites for misuse of private information.


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1XY v Facebook Ireland Ltd [2012] NIQB 96
2Summary of Judgment, 20 February 2015
3Ibid

4Ibid
5Ibid

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Posted on: 25 March 2015