Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland teen's Facebook legal action over blackmail photo could pave way for a flood of claims

By Ralph Riegel

Social media firms face an avalanche of fresh damages claims after a 14-year-old girl in Northern Ireland took legal action over a naked photo posted on a Facebook 'shame' page.

Experts said that the case - the first of its kind in the world - will be a "landmark" in bringing tech giants into the legal spotlight in terms of responsibility for inappropriate content.

Some technology firms are already furiously reviewing operating policies and legal protections amid fears of multi-million pound claims.

The case was settled - but has put sharp focus on the responsibility of social media providers in policing content such as "revenge porn" as well as threats or violence.

The young girl claimed the nude image was obtained after she was blackmailed - and then published as a form of revenge.

Crucially, she sued social media giant Facebook over the inclusion of the naked photo on a so-called 'shame' page, as well as the more traditional route of legal action against the individual who posted the photo.

Facebook failed in an earlier bid to have the claim struck out, and the action was subject to a confidential settlement before the High Court in Belfast this week. It was confirmed Facebook will pay the girl's legal costs.

In the past social media firms have attempted to insist responsibility rested with the platform user rather than the platform itself. However, this case is described as a landmark action, as the teen claimed the social media giant as well as the individual who posted the image were responsible.

Counsel for the girl, instructed by McCann and McCann Solicitors, previously likened it to a type of child abuse.

Legal expert William Bulman said the case represented the system catching up with the digital revolution and social media.

He said: "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.

"I would expect that others, including parents, will look long and hard at this case and its future implications."

He added: "In my opinion it has potentially enormous implications not just in terms of the protection of people within the social media community. I believe this case also underlined the fallacy of people believing they could engage in social media activities without legal consequences."

Facebook said it was "for legal reasons unable to comment on this case".

The potential tragic impact of social media on young people's lives has been brutally highlighted in cases of suicide in recent years.

Last August Romanian man Iulian Enache (31) was handed a four-year jail sentence in his home country after being found guilty of blackmailing a Coalisland teenager who later took his own life

Ronan Hughes was 17 when he died in 2015 after being blackmailed into sharing intimate images of himself online.

The teenager took his own life after some of the images were sent to his friends when he did not pay a ransom.

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