Internet trolls attack the innocent behind the protection of anonymity, and can follow you anywhere on the internet and out on the street. Now one woman in Sussex, England named Nicola Brookes is taking the fight to back to them, possibly right to their front doors. She has a court order forcing Facebook to unmask them so that they can be prosecuted under U.K. privacy laws.
In a bid to cheer up Frankie Cocozza, a contestant on the U.K version of the popular TV show X Factor who was beseigned by trolls, Brookes wrote on Facebook, “Keep your chin up, Frankie, they’ll move on to someone else soon”. Within less than a day, Brookes received hundreds of hateful messages.
According to her solicitor, Rupinder Bains, trolls published her address and followed her on to other forums, including a recipe forum, to continue the abuse. They even went so far as to villify her as a paedophile after someone created a fake profile of her and used it to approach young girls with explicit messages. Trolls also managed to get her home address, publishing it in typical internet-scourge fashion in a practice trolls call “doxing” – publishing personal information or documents so that others can use that information to attack them in real “non-internet” life.
Finally Brookes went to the local police, but they did nothing – so she went to England’s High Court for a court order to force Facebook to hand over the IP addresses of the trolls involved. And in a landmark ruling, the court agreed.
Facebook chose not to contest the court order and released the following statement:
“There is no place for harassment on Facebook, but unfortunately a small minority of malicious individuals exist online, just as they do offline.”
“We respect our legal obligations and work with law enforcement to ensure that such people are brought to justice.”
Facebook really wasn’t beholden to turn over these records, as it is based in California, U.S., and not in the United Kingdom – U.K. laws simply don’t apply, and they could have refused and let it languish in legal actions for years. It’s noteworthy that they didn’t do this. Instead, they took a stand and honored the request.
A great many other online services are based in California, and what Facebook did sets an interesting precedent. Online games are also tuning their attention to the problem and are becoming in general more cooperative with authorities, and the state of Arizona is even considering a state anti-trolling law. With the rapid rate at which members of internet cybergangs are being arrested, being an internet troll is becoming an increasingly dangerous life choice.
“These people are breaking the law so it is fantastic that we should now be able to find out who they are,” Brookes said. “Hopefully these people are now scared in the same way that I was scared when they were harassing me.”
“I’m going for the strongest possible prosecution against these people,” she said. “I want them exposed. They exposed me and they invaded my life. I didn’t ask for it. They wanted a reaction from me and now they have got it.”
Ms Bains, her solicitor, said: “In order to obtain it there’s quite a high threshold that we have to meet.
“Basically we need to show it’s in the interests of justice… we need to prove the third party, namely Facebook, isn’t just a mere witness but is in fact involved in the wrongdoing, albeit innocently, but they are involved.
“We were able to meet that criteria and hence the order was granted.”
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It’s definitely a good first step. Now if she can only take the second step of using the IP addresses to track down identities and the third step of using the identities to force legal repercussions…. It’s a huge machine to get moving, and the amount of inertia is rather daunting. Every success like this offers a little more hope though.