This 14-Year-Old Girl Is Suing Facebook Over Revenge Porn

Facebook must answer to claims that it failed to prevent an indecent image of an underage girl from appearing repeatedly on its site, a Northern Ireland judge ruled this week. An internet safety expert weighs in on the case.

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Sep 13 2016, 3:40pm

Stocksy via Mattia Pelizzari

A 14-year-old Northern Irish girl is taking the biggest social networking site in the world to court in a case involving illegal images of an under-age child.

The girl—who has not been named due to her age—is suing Facebook and the man who published an indecent picture on the site. She alleges that Facebook failed to prevent the image from appearing multiple times on its platform after it was blackmailed from her.

The photo was posted repeatedly on a Facebook "shame page" between November 2014 and January 2016, the Irish News reports. Her lawyers compared the publication of the image to a form of child abuse, arguing that the company should have used its Photo DNA technology to identify the image and prevent its publication.

Facebook attempted to have the case thrown out of court, arguing that it always took down the image once notified.The girl is seeking damages for misuse of private information, negligence, and breach of the Data Protection Act.

On Tuesday, a judge rejected Facebook's efforts to have the case struck out, with a full trial expected to begin in months. A Facebook spokesperson told Broadly, "There's no place for this kind of content on Facebook and we remove it when it's reported to us. As outlined in our Community Standards, nudity and sexual exploitation are not allowed. People can use the reporting links found on every piece of content on the site, and our dedicated teams of reviewers will promptly review reports and take action if content violates our community standards. We care deeply about protecting people's safety and work with charities, academics and experts across the UK and Ireland to develop grass-roots education programs and help create an environment where everyone feels safe."

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At its heart, the issue revolves around whether Facebook should be responsible for all the content that appears on the site: is it a publisher, or a technology platform that aggregates other people's content? At present, the company relies on an EU law that says Facebook shouldn't have to monitor everything that's posted on the site. If the Belfast court rules in the 14-year-old girl's favor, this could change everything.

Photo via Pixabay

Facebook—along with the other Internet giants, such as Google and Twitter—have been accused of inaction when it comes to protecting victims of revenge. In a 2014 case involving Photoshopped pornographic images, a court threw out a Texan woman's $123 million lawsuit against Facebook. In the same year, lawyers representing the celebrities at the center of the iCloud leaks threatened Google with legal action, accusing the tech company of failing "to act expeditiously and responsibly to remove the images."


Watch: Inside the Torturous Fight to End Revenge Porn

While revenge porn is a well-established phenomenon, so-called "shame pages" are a relatively newer trend. "They're pages set up with hostile intent to shame and mortify people," explains Professor Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics. Livingstone is an expert in child internet safety and has advised the British government on their policies.

"Often the photos will have been obtained through blackmail, or they'll have been given by the victim in a moment of naivety of some kind." Once images appear online, they're almost impossible to get back. "Facebook can use its technology to track everything that's posted its site," she says, but they not able to prevent images being screen-capped and appearing elsewhere online.

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Ultimately, the issue is broader than one social network or one court case, however landmark. "Every school is having to deal with these shame pages several times in a year," Livingstone explains. "There will be these epidemics that suddenly go around and take hold for a while."

The solution? "We need compulsory sex and relationship education in all our schools. We need to be educating children from high school age and up about the dangers of revenge porn and indecent images."