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Judges order Facebook trolls to be identified - June-08-12
Source: The Times - Law
A woman who was tormented with abusive messages by online trolls has won a ground-breaking judgment in the High Court to have the identities of those who targeted her disclosed.
In the first ruling of its kind, Nicola Brookes was granted an order compelling Facebook to reveal the IP addresses and other information of the people who set up a fake profile in her name using her picture to post explicit comments.
Ms Brookes, 45, who has previously criticised a lack of action by Sussex Police in the case, said she would use the judgment to bring a private prosecution against the abusers.
The ruling is considered legally significant as it is the latest in a series of legal rulings aiming to clamp down on criminals who use the Internet as cover for stalking or abuse.
Ms Brookes said she started suffering abuse when she posted a comment on Facebook supporting a former X Factor contestant, Frankie Cocozza, after he left the show last year.
Following her post, she says anonymous tormentors set up a fake profile in her name on the social networking site using her picture to post explicit comments and lure young girls.
“After posting the comment about Frankie Cocozza, I went back to Facebook about an hour later and there was loads of abuse. At the time, I thought of it as banter,” she said.
“But after a few days people starting saying to me: ’You’re popping up all over the internet’. People were inciting hatred against me. They weren’t just targeting me, they were also dragging young girls into it as well.”
Ms Brookes, from Brighton, East Sussex, said she aimed to use her abusers’ identities to launch prosecutions.
“I’m going for the strongest possible prosecution against these people. I want them exposed. They exposed me and they invaded my life,” she said.
“I didn’t ask for it. They wanted a reaction from me and now they have got it.”
Although Ms Brookes’s case is believed to be the first of its kind, there have been other recent examples where the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have brought trolls before the courts.
They include student Liam Stacey, 21, from Pontypridd, south Wales, who was jailed for 56 days for mocking Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed with a heart attack.
Rupinder Bains, her solicitor, said today: “The police do have the ability and the resources to find out who is responsible for this type of abuse.
“The order that was granted from the High Court was called a Norwich Pharmacal Order which is a disclosure order compelling Facebook to give us whatever information they have.
“We don’t know how useful that information is going to be until we have it. It may turn out to be fake. If that’s the case, it will be the internet service providers (ISPs) who will be most useful to us because they will hold the bill-payers’ addresses and we will have to get a further order.”
She added that Facebook have been helpful but that Sussex Police had not pursued the case. “As far as we are concerned, nothing has been done by the police,” Ms Bains said.
Sussex Police said they asked Facebook to remove any abusive posts about Ms Brookes and said their investigation was still continuing and had been reviewed.
A police spokesman said: “We understand how difficult this has been for Ms Brookes and the distress this has caused her. “We have looked at the material sent to us by Ms Brookes and we have told Facebook to remove anything offensive or abusive towards her.
“We have also given her crime prevention advice. The matter is still subject of an active police investigation and has recently been reviewed.
“We are also seeking information from Facebook and the fact that the High Court has given authority to apply for the information required from Facebook is welcomed and may help our investigation.
“Ms Brookes and her solicitor will be kept in touch with any significant developments.
“As Facebook is an international website, millions of people from all over the world use it. We need to gather evidence to prove who the person is for a successful prosecution to take place.
“Officers examine any such allegations of bullying, harassment or malicious communication and every case is taken seriously.”
Facebook said it shares information such as IP addresses and basic subscriber information, including names, email addresses and registration dates, when there is a legal justification and obligation.
Along with other large internet companies, it receives similar requests frequently but the company said all demands for information must be backed up by a court order.
A Facebook spokesman said: “There is no place for harassment on Facebook, but unfortunately a small minority of malicious individuals exist online, just as they do offline.
“We respect our legal obligations and work with law enforcement to ensure that such people are brought to justice.”
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