A case has moved to the High Court which could impact how social networking sites deal with information sharing in the future. Facebook Ireland Limited finds itself at the centre of a mini-storm that could have far reaching consequences. KitGuru takes a high altitude balloon to see how the front is building.
Various groups around the world has use media (in general) to broadcast the name/address/appearance of people they consider to be anywhere from undesirable to downright dangerous. As with all things in life, it’s rarely black and white – but the subject matter is inflammatory enough to cause the Courts to pause when passing judgement.
The crux of the problem lies in the balance between the legal system of a developed/civilised people and the common sense/gut reaction of most humans to a certain set of circumstances.
Groups warning each other of (potential) danger is not only popular among prairie dogs, but it also forms the basis of our daily news reports. When Hurricane Sandy was approaching the East Coast of the United States, media warned of the danger and suggested courses of action. That kind of warning CAN be carried by Facebook and other social media.
So what if a murderer was release from prison and came to live near you? When they move in, they are 65 years old, their sentence is over and, according to the Courts, they have served their time. Should they be left free to live the remainder of their lives? What if the original charge was manslaughter? What if the person had used too much force to repel home invaders and ended up serving several years in jail – how threatened would you feel then? Probably, most people would feel the same: Keep away from the murders, but ask the ‘home invasion person’ for their side of the story. The layers of grey, from black to white, seem quite easy to distinguish here.
It gets more complex if the killings had happened while the person moving next door to you was in uniform when the deaths occurred. We might even have a parade for them.
Same situation, but this time you have a young family and the 35 year old man moving in next door to you has been released after serving 5 years for sex-offences. Or, increasing the tension levels again, what if they had been jailed for child-based sex offences.
Now no one wants to live in that street, right?
Justice McCloskey is, presently, considering how much of an onus there should be on Facebook – following threats made against one particular sex offender. Once identified, a Facebook page was set up that identified him and warned people about what might happen. Comments, that included threats of violence, followed and Facebook removed all of the photos/comments.
The sex offender in question claims to be in poor health and, according to his lawyer, is in ‘serious danger of attack’ as a result of these Facebook posts. The lawyer is demanding that any Facebook user who posts photos of his client – or makes threats – should have their accounts removed by Facebook and the police should investigate.
Justice McCloskey has been quoted as saying, “The court, in consideration and determination of a case of this kind, will obviously have at the forefront of its mind the operation of well-established laws including the law of defamation and the provisions of the Human Rights Act” – while the future of Facebook paedophile monitoring/warning pages is now in doubt, because they would infringe on the human rights of the sex offenders.
How likely is it that the courts will rule, “Facebook isn’t stupid and knows that if photos and locations of sex offenders are published on its site – alongside comments calling for violence – then the company is facilitating an attack and would therefore be liable for part of the damages/pain that follow”? In the past, Facebook’s response has been consistent.
For Facebook, this has to be one of the hottest political potatoes ever. Justin Beiber pages are everywhere and serve little purpose other than to entertainment his fans.
Warning pages might prevent future attacks on children – but can the courts balance that risk against the kind of human rights embedded in Brussels etc? The human instinct to warn others is incredibly strong, we can’t see it being suppressed by a court order.
Would a warning help? In recent Australian Government studies that mapped 2,165 cases, re-offence rates ran as high as 16% for repeating a sex attack.
KitGuru says: We expect Facebook’s default position to be ‘ block attempts to identify paedophiles and warn against their presence in your community’. Where should the offenders rights balance society’s right to know? Will the judge rule differently? How would you rule?
Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.