Nicola Brooks, a 45 year old single mother from
Brighton, has won a High Court Order forcing Facebook to reveal the
identities of individuals who targeted her with abusive
It all started when X-Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza was
forced to leave the contest in November 2011. Ms Brooks posted a
supportive comment about him on Facebook. Within hours, internet
bullies had set up a fake Facebook page in her name and abused her
e.g. calling her a paedophile and drug dealer. The attacks went on
with increasing ferocity, and Ms Brooks reported the matter to
Sussex Police. In the absence of what she regarded as appropriate
action, she decided instead to start civil proceedings to find the
identity of those responsible.
She applied under the jurisdiction created by the
Norwich Pharmacalcase, allowing
disclosure to be obtained from a third party which has
inadvertently facilitated a civil wrong. This is the main route
hitherto by which ID details in the virtual world can be obtained
from ISPs and website hosts. It was used by the claimants in a 2008
libel case (Applause Store Productions Limited
and Matthew Firsh - v - Grant Raphael )to find the
individual responsible for libellous Facebook comments.
Facebook's position (via its lawyers in the US) was that it
would comply with any valid Court Order obtained in the UK.
At the start of June 2012, the High Court granted the Order
compelling Facebook to reveal the IP addresses and other
information about her bullies. Ms Brooks's intention is now to
bring a private prosecution against the abusers. This may involve
further 'Norwich Pharmacal' action if the data held by
Facebook turns out to be fake – then the next port of
call would have to be the relevant ISP which will have billing
This sort of civil litigation is expensive and complicated, even
allowing for the possibility of securing legal advice on a 'no
win no fee' basis. It follows other cases of internet bullying
where the criminal authorities have been more efficient than Sussex
Police, it seems, in bringing internet bullies before the criminal
In an article in September 2011, I wrote about the jailing of
Sean Duffy for 18 weeks after he had written abusive messages on
Facebook tribute pages set up for recently deceased teenagers.
Please click here to view this article.
Since then, there have been other instances. Louise Mensch MP
called in the police after receiving a threatening email which was
eventually traced back to one Frank Zimmerman who later in June
2012 received a suspended jail sentence. This follows the notorious
incident earlier in 2012 when a Swansea University student Liam
Stacey was sentenced to 56 days in jail after a series of racist
comments on Twitter concerning the collapse mid-game of Fabrice
Muamba, the Bolton Wanderers footballer.
Pursuing civil remedies as the plucky Ms Brooks has done is a
more complicated option for a private individual than invoking the
criminal law via the Police, and there is a tide of public opinion
that people in her position should not have to resort to such steps
in order to bring internet bullies to book.
Against this background, the government is proposing an addition
to the Defamation Bill currently before Parliament, to give new
powers to enable the victims of such treatment to identify their
The right to know who is behind malicious messages without the
need for costly legal action will need to be balanced by measures
which ensure that false claims do not result in the removal of
legitimate material, say privacy advocates.
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