Contact Law blog

Landmark ruling in High Court against cyber-bullying on Facebook

Last month, Nicola Brookes, from Brighton, was granted a High Court Order that will force Facebook to reveal details of several of its members who are accused of being, by popular designation, ‘internet trolls’ or cyber-bullies.

Newspapers, including the Independent and the Guardian, report that Brookes alleged she had been bullied anonymously on-line by the Facebook members, after she posted a comment supporting an evicted ‘X-Factor’ contestant, Frankie Cocozza, last year.

The posted abuse included branding the 45-year-old single mother a ‘paedophile’ and ‘drug-dealer’. Her attackers also set up a fake Facebook profile, using Brookes’ name and photograph, to post explicit comments that she had not made.

Local Sussex police could not help Brookes track down her anonymous persecutors, so she decided to take legal action. Having won the Court Order, thought to be one of the first to concern cyber-bullying, she will use the details obtained to launch private prosecutions.

Facebook has yet to receive the Court Order, known as a Norwich Pharmacal Order (NPO), but the company is expected to comply with its terms. The Order must be physically served to Facebook’s company headquarters in Menlo Park in the U.S.A., under California law.

The information that Facebook must reveal includes the names, emails and IP addresses of the alleged bullies. However, there are various methods by which these details can be faked by internet users.

NPOs were created following a 1974 House of Lords ruling, stating: “where a third party [has] become involved in unlawful conduct, they [are] under a duty to assist the person suffering damage by giving them full information and disclosing the identity of wrongdoers”.

A claimant must demonstrate certain elements in order for an NPO to be granted. For example, action must not be possible without the third party’s information, and the third party must not be just a witness but involved, even innocently, in the wrong-doing.

Last Friday, a Facebook spokesperson commented: “We respect our legal obligations and work with law enforcement to ensure that such people are brought to justice”.

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