Wednesday 21 February 2018

Explainer: How Irish 'revenge porn' case may change how social media giants operate

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A landmark legal action over a naked photograph of a 14-year-old Northern Ireland girl being posted on a Facebook 'shame' page has alarmed the tech world and could have a major impact on how social media companies deal with explicit images, threats and abuse.

Why was this a 'landmark' case?

A 14-year-old girl took Facebook to the High Court in Belfast after she claimed they were liable for the publication of the naked image which repeatedly appeared on its 'shame' page.

This particular case is considered 'landmark' as the teen claimed the social media giant, as well as the individual who posted the image were responsible. In the past social media firms have tried to place responsibility on individual.

The teen sued Facebook alleging the misuse of private information, negligence and breaches of the Data Protection Act. The lawsuit was subject to a confidential settlement before the High Court in Belfast on Tuesday.

How could this case affect how social media firms operate?

Experts said that the case will bring tech giants into the legal spotlight and it could open the floodgates for other civil claims.

The Belfast case has put a sharp focus on the responsibility of social media giants in policing content such as 'revenge porn' or threats and abuse.

Facebook has already taken steps to tackle issues such as revenge porn.

In March of last year it launched new safety tools to allow users to flag intimate photos posted without their consent to “specially trained representatives” from the site's community operations team who would make sure the content is removed from Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.

How could case this affect how others use social media?

Legal expert William Bulman BL told the Irish Independent that the case represented the system catching up with the digital revolution and social media and he believes it could have "potentially enormous implications".

"This certainly appears to be a landmark case. Not just in terms of data protection, but bringing social media firms into the legal spotlight in terms of responsibility for unacceptable content such as this material," he said.

"I believe this case also underlined the fallacy of people believing they could engage with social media activities without legal consequences."

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