…..the graphic opening words of today’s decision by the Supreme Court in a defamation case. The next words are equally clear and arresting: ” What would those words convey to the “ordinary reasonable reader” of a Facebook Post?”
The context was a recently ended unhappy marriage between Mr Stocker (the Claimant) and Mrs Stocker (the Defendant), and a series of posts arising out of a Status Update by a Mrs Bligh (Mr Stocker’s new partner) in December 2015. Mrs Stocker and Mrs Bligh commented on each other’s posts for the next 2 hours 18 minutes. Mrs Stocker did not mince her words: “I hear you have been together 2 years? If so u might like to ask him who he was in bed with the last time he was arrested.”
This was quickly followed by “wouldn’t bring it up last time I accused him of cheating he spent a night in the cells, tried to strangle me..”. This was a reference to an incident which had happened some 12 years before.
Mr S did not take kindly to this attempt “to blacken [him] in the eyes of his current girlfriend and belittle her”: as the Court of Appeal put it.
He sued. He won before the judge, and before the Court of Appeal.
HL (A Minor) v Facebook Incorporated, The Northern Health and Social Care Trust, The Department of Justice for Northern Ireland and others  NIQB 25 (1 March 2013) – read judgment
In this somewhat chaotic action, the Plaintiff sued ten defendants, in anonymised form by her father and next friend.
The Writ stated that the Plaintiff, aged 12, had been engaged in posting and uploading sexually suggestive and inappropriate photographic images of herself onto Facebook, and that she had been doing so vis-à-vis several different accounts with differing profile names. She had been involved with the social services from the age of 11. From July 2012 to January 2013 she was the subject of a Secure Accommodation Order. She currently resides in a specialised unit, is a grade below secure accommodation.
This was clearly a bid by the father to bring his wayward daughter under control by restricting her access to the internet.
X v Facebook Ireland Ltd  NIQB 96 (30 November 2012) – read judgment
This fascinating case comes to light in the midst of general astonishment at the minimal attention paid in the Leveson Report to the “wild west” of the internet and the question of social media regulation.
This short judgement demonstrates that a careful step by step judicial approach – with the cooperation of the defendant of course – may be the route to a range of common law tools that protect individuals from the internet’s incursions in a way which no rigidly formulated statute is capable of doing. As the judge observed mildly,
The law develops incrementally and, as it does so, parallels may foreseeably materialise in factually different contexts.
Background to the case
The plaintiff (XY) sought an injunction requiring Facebook to remove from its site the page entitled “Keeping Our Kids Safe from Predators”, alternatively requiring Facebook to monitor the contents of the aforementioned page in order to prevent recurrence of publication of any further material relating to the Plaintiff and to remove such content from publication forthwith. Continue reading →
Updated x 2 | A 20-year-old has been sent to prison for twelve weeks for posting offensive and derogatory comments about missing five-year-old April Jones on his Facebook page. His attempts at humour were undoubtedly stupid, offensive and exhibited incredibly poor taste and timing. But is a long spell in prison really the way we should be dealing with offensive idiots? Is a law which was passed before social media existed now placing a significant chill on our freedom of expression rights?
Matthew Woods pleaded guilty to an offence under s.127 of the Communications Act 2003, which prohibits a person sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character“. He was sentenced at Chorley Magistrates’ Court.
These types of proceedings can have human rights implications in two ways: Article 6, providing the right to a fair trial can be infringed upon by improper communicaton by jurors, and to a lesser extent, Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression may be engaged. As Article 10 includes a large number of circumstances where freedom of expression may be lawfully restricted, raising freedom of expression arguments to challenge the bringing of contempt proceedings would be very unlikely to succeed in these circumstances.
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