…..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.
You would have to be a monk or, at any rate, in an entirely internet-free zone, not to have had your recent days troubled by endless GDPR traffic. The tiniest charity holding your name and email address up to the data behemoths have asked, in different ways, for your consent for them to hold your personal data. You may have observed the frankness and simplicity of the former’s requests and the weaseliness of the latter’s, who try to make it rather difficult for you to say no, indeed to understand what precisely they are asking you to do.
Just in case you have not looked at it, here is the Regulation. It is actually a good deal easier to understand than a lot of the summaries of it.
This lack of transparency in these consent forms/privacy statements had not gone unnoticed by one of Europe’s more indefatigable privacy sleuths. Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, who, at 30 years of age, has already been to the EU top court twice (see here and here), moved fast. By the end of GDPR day last Friday, 25 May, he sued global platforms with multibillion-euro complaints. 3 complaints said to be valued at €3.9 billion were filed in the early hours against Facebook and two subsidiaries, WhatsApp, and Instagram, via data regulators in Austria, Belgium and Germany. Another complaint valued at €3.7 billion was lodged with France’s CNIL in the case of Google’s Android operating system.
Richardson v Facebook  EWHC 3154 (2 November 2015) – read judgment
An action in defamation and under the right to privacy against Facebook has been dismissed in the High Court. The Facebook entity named as defendant did not “control” the publication so as to allow liability; and even if it did, no claim under the Human Rights Act could lie against FB as it could not be described as any sort of a public authority for the purposes of Section 6 of the Act.
The claimant, acting as a litigant in person, sought damages in respect of the publication in 2013 and 2014 of a Facebook profile and a posting on the Google Blogger service. The Profile and the Blogpost each purported to have been created by the claimant, but she complained that each was a fake, created by an impostor. She claimed that each was defamatory of her, and infringed her right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Continue reading →
CG v Facebook Ireland & Another  NIQB 11 (20 February 2015) – read judgment
The plaintiff was a former sex offender who had been identified on a Facebook page run by the second defendant called “Keep Our Kids Safe From Predators 2”. He had been released on licence and he was apprehensive about his safety upon his return to the community.
He resides with his father, who is disabled, and with his adult children one of whom is also disabled. He was particularly fearful of the reactions of others to his conduct in the light of the fact that his name had been published on the internet. I have posted on an earlier case where another former sex offender won an injunction against Facebook Ireland Limited in respect of the original KOKSFP, which was subsequently taken down (XY v Facebook Ireland Ltd NIQB 96). Continue reading →
J19 and Another v Facebook Ireland  NIQB 113 – read judgment
The High Court in Northern Ireland has chosen to depart from the “robust” Strasbourg approach to service providers and their liability for comments hosted on their sites. Such liability, said the judge, was not consonant with the EC Directive on E-Commerce.
This was an application on behalf of the defendant to vary and discharge orders of injunction dated 27 September 2013 made in the case of both plaintiffs. One of the injunctions restrained “the defendant from placing on its website photographs of the plaintiff, his name, address or any like personal details until further order.” These interim injunctions were awarded pursuant to writs issued by the plaintiffs for damages by reason of the publication of photographs, information and comments on the Facebook webpages entitled “Irish Blessings”, “Ardoyne under Siege” and “Irish Banter” on 11 September 2013 and on subsequent dates. Continue reading →
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 →
Smith v Trafford Housing Trust  EWHC 3221 (Ch) – read judgment
Turner v East Midlands Trains  EWCA Civ 1470 – read judgment
Two employment cases, about Facebook and train tickets respectively, indicate the difficulties of deciding where human rights may or may not be raised in disputes between private parties – neither defendant in these cases was a public authority.
It is perfectly clear that where there is a statutory provision under attack, Section 3 of the Human Rights Act mandates the “reading down” of its wording to conform to Convention rights even though there is no “public authority” amongst the parties to the litigation. The Turner case below illustrates this particular aspect of the “horizontal” effect of the HRA in disputes between private parties.
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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