Saturday 21 April 2018

Man sues Facebook after being labelled 'Dundalk's biggest drug dealer' in post

Photo: Stock
Photo: Stock

Tim Healy

A man is suing Facebook claiming he was defamed in a post calling him "Dundalk's biggest drug dealer".

Paul McArdle, Medebawn, Avenue Road, Dundalk, Co Louth, has brought a High Court action over the post which appeared on November 9, 2014, but was taken down by the next day.

Facebook denies he has been defamed and pleads EU e-commerce rules provide it with immunity from defamation suits once a post is taken down expeditiously.

It says it is not a publisher but merely a facilitator of material.

It has in the past provided information on the identity of posters who have been personally sued. However Facebook itself has not so far been sued in Ireland for defamation, it says.

It also says Mr McArdle (36), an unemployed welder, has seven previous convictions, including one for possession of drugs dating back many years ago and another for assault.   This was information provided by gardai following a personal data request, the court heard.

Mr McArdle's lawyers obtained orders that Facebook provide disclosure of certain information in advance of his legal proceedings, including in relation to how many people viewed the post before it was taken down.

Facebook was granted its application that Mr McArdle reply within six weeks to formal questions Facebook sent to his lawyers which he declined to answer, claiming they were not relevant.   They include whether he had ever been involved in the sale of illegal drugs.

In his action, he says the post was published, or caused to be published, by Facebook on its website headed: "South Armagh South Down ADM".

It included a photo of him with the words including "biggest heroin dealer in Dundalk and beyond".

He says the page was seen by his life partner and his friends.

He says his reputation has been most grievously injured and he has suffered substantial distress and damage.

He also claims damages against Facebook for conspiracy to harass him and/or procuring the infliction of distress upon him.

In a pre-trial discovery application, his counsel Yvonne McNamara said only Facebook was in possession of the evidence needed for the case as the material was deleted.  

Facebook's status as regards defamation law was analogous to that of a broadcaster which cannot control what may be said on the airwaves but is responsible for it, she said.

Facebook, as a hugely profitable corporate entity which makes money from advertising associated with its service, must have a deep and abiding interest in the content on its pages, she said.

Rossa Fanning SC, for Facebook, argued there was no need for a discovery order because the material had been within Mr McArdle's knowledge from the start of the matter. 

Facebook had only received information as to the resource location, the page "URL" in the last few days and without it, Facebook was unable to locate it from more than a billion members.

Mr McArdle had brought an application for discovery in the hope that the costs incurred would force Facebook to settle, counsel said.

In the past, people who believe they were defamed obtained court order to get a poster's identity from Facebook and later sued them but there had been no defamation actions against the internet giant in this jurisdiction, he said.

Ms Justice Marie Baker said while some of the material sought by Mr McArdle was too broad, she granted discovery in relation to a number of matters.   She ordered Mr McArdle provide answers to written questions asked of him by Facebook's lawyers.

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