Police criticised over handling of Facebook 'revenge porn' case

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Lawyers acting for the 14-year-old girl at the centre of landmark legal action against Facebook over revenge porn have criticised the police handling of the case.

Naked photographs of the Northern Ireland girl were allegedly posted on the social media site, which has since agreed to pay compensation to the teenager.

One of the teenager's lawyers, Pearse MacDermott from McCann and McCann Solicitors, told the Press Association that police delays in the handling of the case meant officers were unable to prosecute the person who posted the images, which caused a "detrimental effect" to the girl's mental health.

He added that he hoped the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had learnt from the case and would in future "act with more haste" when dealing with similar cases.

"The police carried out an investigation, but it took a long time. By the time they got around to investigate, whatever device had the photograph on it was gone. They therefore couldn't substantiate who put (the images) up.

"Had they gone that day and discovered his phone and discovered the image on it, they could have done something, but unfortunately they didn't do something for some time."

He added: "In fairness, this began in 2014 so they may have improved their game since then. But in this case it was difficult to see why they didn't act quicker."

Mr MacDermott said he believed that one of the ways society should deal with these type of cases is for the perpetrator to be "brought to book before the court."

"Certainly the fact it took the police a long time to get involved in the case and to deal with it is disappointing. I would hope that in future they would act with more haste," he said.

The girl's legal team launched High Court proceedings after her photo was allegedly posted on a so-called shame page on Facebook - which has a headquarters in Dublin - several times between November 2014 and January 2016.

She was seeking damages for misuse of private information, negligence and breach of the Data Protection Act.

On Tuesday Facebook reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the victim.

"The case had a very detrimental effect on (the victim's) mental health. That is why her family decided to seek legal redress," said Mr MacDermott.

He added that the legal settlement has now "moved the goal posts" in terms of how social media providers like Facebook and Twitter respond to indecent and abusive posts and images.

"Had these images been put in a newspaper or on the TV there would be serious repercussions and those same repercussions should also apply to whatever platform is used in the social media world," Mr MacDermott said.

"The case moves the goal posts in the sense that Facebook always said it was up to the individual user to be responsible, not them. It now puts the onus on the provider to look at how they respond to indecent, abusive and other such images put on their platform.

"Whenever an image is put up that is clearly objectionable they should be able to stop that ever going up again. They should use the technology they have to be a responsible provider and remove the offensive post."

He added that the settlement could open the floodgates for similar cases to be taken, but that he would rather see organisations like Facebook taking "moral and social responsibility to make sure these things don't reappear".

"Should there be legislation to regulate the platform providers such as Facebook and Twitter? I think there is a need to look at how social media organisations operate their systems and how they operate the material that comes onto their site," he said.