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Social Media Law

Following a number of recent social media law cases which have come before the Northern Ireland courts in recent months the court have recently published a decision in the case of J19 and J20 -v- Facebook Ireland.

The court was asked to review two injunctions granted in favour of the two applicants, whose anonymity had been protected and they had been designated J19 and J20. These two injunctions were:

  1. Facebook was to remove pictures of the applicants and any references to the applicants from the groups “Irish Blessings”, “Ardoyne Under Siege” and “Belfast Banter”.
  2. Facebook was not to place on its website photographs of the applicant or any personal details, suich as their names, addresses or other identifying information.

These injunctions had previously been granted in September 2013 and the court was asked to extend these injunctions pending a full hearing of the matter.

The Arguments

The applicants alleged that their photographs had been posted on Facebook groups and that these photographs had been commented upon by other individuals who had made derogatory and threatening comments. They further alleged  that the posting of these  photographs  had caused them to be recognised and threatened in the street.

They alleged  that the photographs publication on these groups, or similar groups on Facebook was a breach of their Human rights under article 2, right to life, article 3, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and article 8, right to family life.

The Defendants, Facebook Ireland, argued that there was no evidence before the court showing a breach of the applicant’s right to life or freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment. Further they argued that the right to family life is a right which should be balanced against their rights under article 10, freedom of expression.

Additionally they argued as in previous cases reported, that it was not possible for them to monitor all of the content posted by the over 1 billion monthly active users in over 200 countries to attempt to filter out and block any posts related to J19 or J20. Even if this were possible it would place a disproportionate burden on them and that they have mechanisms in place to allow the applicants to challenge new material posted.

Judgement

The Judge weighed up the factors for an interim injunction as set down in case law. Having regarded to all of the arguments and the factors in the case the Judge was minded to not uphold the injunctions. The court pointed out that this decision was on the basis of the information before them at the time of this hearing and that if further evidence was more evidence was brought forward the court may decide otherwise at a full hearing. The court found:

  1. The first injunction was to remove the items from the Facebook groups, this had been done and as such the first injunction did not need to be carried on.
  2. In relation to the second injunction (that Facebook prevent the applicants pictures or personal details from being posted on their site) the court found:
  3. The wording of the injunction was unclear and it could not allow the Defendants to act with certainty when they were attempting to uphold the terms of it.
  4. It would be disproportionate for the Defendant to carry on the injunction.
  5. There was not enough evidence before the court that the applicant’s right to life would be affected if the injunction was not granted.

The Judge noted that where a breach of right to life is alleged it may be necessary to provide some evidence from the police or something similar to satisfy the court of any potential breach.

The interim injunctions were not upheld but the substantive hearing is yet to be decided upon.

If you require any more information on this case or litigation queries within social media law please do not hesitate to contact our litigation team.

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