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back to article Brit judge orders Facebook to rip masks from anonymous cowards

A 45-year-old woman from Brighton who was subjected to a litany of abusive messages on Facebook has won a landmark High Court order forcing the social network to reveal the identities of anonymous internet trolls who labelled her a paedophile and a drug dealer. The Guardian reported on Friday that Nicola Brookes had received " …

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Reports ... are ... removed if they violate our terms

Did they really mean to say that? I've certainly noticed them removing most means to report unwanted contact from others etc, lately, presumably because it's just oh too much hassle to follow up.

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Not quite

It means she can now find out which ISP to serve a Norwich Pharmacarl Order on. If it is a mobile network or public wifi, then they probably can't be traced.

Otherwise, the next problem is to find out which of the account holder's children is responsible for the trolling.

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Not home and dry though

If all she gets is a list of IP addresses connected to individual postings, then there is still the problem of proving *beyond reasonable doubt* that the individual charged is the actual author of the note, this being a criminal prosecution.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not home and dry though

Negative. This is a civil matter and therefore the problem is proving "on the balance of probabilities", which is a lower standard of proof than "beyond reasonable doubt".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not home and dry though

The article mentioned a "private prosecution", which is a criminal matter. "Suing for damages" would be the civil equivalent.

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Anonymous Coward

Criminal/civil

The article mentioned a "private prosecution". That would be "criminal". On the other hand, private prosecutions are rather unusual so perhaps the article is wrong.

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Re: Criminal/civil

Article isn't wrong - her lawyers use the term "private prosecution"

Maybe the CPS will wake up and kick Mr Plod into action once the prosecution is launched.

After all - if you can prosecute people for making jokes about airports you should presumably prosecute them for real crimes too.

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Re: Not home and dry though

I'm a bit torn.

If she makes it a criminal matter I sincerly hope she loses, because we don't need more of the "account and IP are criminal proof" nonsense. On the other hand the trolling scumbags certainly need to get kicked in the privies. A permaban from FB would be a start, perhapsan injunction forbidding the use of "social networks" for a year or two so that they can go and have a life instead of harassing people. But it needs to be a civil matter.

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Re: torn

I'm on the opposite tack.

Attacks such as she experienced can cause real social harm, which can translate into real economic harm. I hope she gets the names, and drags the idiots kicking and screaming into the light.

Now - whether or not actual harm has been done, and what should be done about it, is a matter for a court (and maybe a jury). But wishing failure upon her cause seems a bit prejudiced to me. I'm hoping she gets her day in court, and that the jerks responsbile get theirs, too.

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Re: torn

> I'm on the opposite tack.

Erm, no you're not? Your post says the same as mine, minus the part where I say that IP and account ID must not be used as a criminal proof.

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FAIL

Re: Not home and dry though (@ the voters)

It surprises me that at least seven readers here think that IP info must be approved as a proof of identity beyond reasonnable doubt, and thus taken as proof in a criminal trial. That denotes complete lack of technical knowledge.

Or do the downvoters think that the harrassers should be given a medal as opposed to the swift kick in the nads I was recommending?

Seriously, the audience here is going down the drain. Attention span of a goldfish on meth crystal.

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Re: Not home and dry though

'A permaban from FB would be a start'

And how exactly would you achieve such a thing?

Anyone can get a new webmail account in 2 minutes flat and even if they only post from home their IP address is probably dynamic, so you couldn't block it.

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Re: torn

Uh - yes I am?

You want her case to fail, so you state. I want her case to be heard - Without the prejudicialy-expressed desire for failure.

By the way - Opposite tack does not mean "opposite direction." It means 'different angle to the wind.' I this case, without the prejudice.

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Re: Not home and dry though

Court injonction. There's no technical way to enforce it rigorously but in case they slip again and are caught because someone complains the consequences are harsh enough that they would probably not take the chance, or at least be very careful not to offend anyone if they do. A bit like a restraining order.

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Facebook has a real name culture

Erm....Are you sure?

No seriously, are you totally sure?

Because there is no way in which you can verify the persons actual name.

On my fiends list I have frubious bandersnatch (formerly sprout mistress) a bertie basset and a few others. And I can defiantly say that their passport utilises there more common family name.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Facebook has a real name culture

> And I can defiantly say that their passport utilises there more common family name

Yes. All there names are defiantly belong to us.

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JDX
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Re: Facebook has a real name culture

It does have a real name culture because most people using it use their real names. The fact some don't (my cat has an account) doesn't change the normal usage.

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FAIL

Re: Facebook has a real name culture

These cyberthugs were using a real name. It just didn't happen to be their name.

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Re: Facebook has a real name culture

But surely the cats real name is on the account...

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Re: Facebook has a real name culture

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

It isn't just one of your holiday games;

You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,

Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,

Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—

All of them sensible everyday names.

There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,

Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:

Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—

But all of them sensible everyday names.

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,

A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,

Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,

Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,

Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,

Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-

Names that never belong to more than one cat.

But above and beyond there's still one name left over,

And that is the name that you never will guess;

The name that no human research can discover—

But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,

The reason, I tell you, is always the same:

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:

His ineffable effable

Effanineffable

Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

- TS Elliot "The Naming Of Cats"

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@ukgnome Real names, real people!

I find it hard to believe for one crystal clear reason. I have an account with the name of the famous East European poet Goan Fuqurselv. I was tempted to go with the German Hanz Up but it wasn't the mood I was going for at the time.

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FAIL

Facebook "real name culture" didn't do that women much good.

It took lawyers working pro bono to get Facebook to take some action - the major thing being the issuing of a press release. As the article states, the landmark order remains to be served on Facebook in the US where the company stores its data - and we don't know if that's going to be successful.

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Re: Facebook "real name culture" didn't do that women much good.

Oh, that will be successful and FB will have to cough up the email addresses. Whether or not that eventually gets you to the real perps is a whole other story.

Reading between the lines, I expect the woman was using her FB account to post comments on news or blog sites (seems to be the in thing now) and drew the comments there. If it were someone she actually 'friended' it would be a simple matter to 'unfriend' the perps. How applicable the laws will be when she finally gets to the culprits? No clue, but I'd be betting on the windmills not the perp walkers.

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Trollface

Re: Facebook "real name culture" didn't do that women much good.

If anything, it helps the trolls and bullies. People who create an account with malicious intent will always use fake names, but innocent people who naively go along with that policy open themselves up for particularly frightening types of abuse.

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Anonymous Coward

Names etc

I dont understand how this helps - anyone can make up a name and get an email address - it doesnt have to match your real name - i can understand the IP address but even that can be spoofed (if you are really that sad that you need to go to those lengths just to post).

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Anonymous Coward

Anonymous posting

The fact that they want the person's IP address, real name and address at all is proff that people have a valid reason to want to be Anonymous; To protect themselves from retaliations.

You may not like what a person says to you, but that is still their right to say it, and you could always apply filters for keywords on messages, or decide not to read something.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Anonymous posting

No it is not their right to say anything they like. They have the right to voice any opinion on any topic but not to target an individual with insults and abuse.

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Re: Names etc

The same court order that force FB to cough up the names gets you a fresh one for the emailed to cough up the next set of data. The hope is that eventually you wind up with real information. Not sure how many shams you'd need to get through though. Or how much trouble it actually causes the miscreants.

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Re: Anonymous posting

If I accused you of being a paedo here on El Reg, even as an AC, I think you'd feel a bit differently about that. Especially if you happened to live in Britain. I take it from some of the stories posted here, it's one of their last shooting offenses, and the cops aren't too particular about making sure the trial comes first. And while I'm all for boiling the paedos in oil AFTER the conviction, I believe very strongly that you are OWED your day in court first.

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FAIL

Re: Anonymous posting

Is that why you posted this as AC ? Didn't want everyone to see what a stupid attitude you have?

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Headmaster

Re: the "right" to say anything you like

No, that's a flawed American ideology, which has resulted in, amongst other things, the constitutionally protected "right" to racism.

In more civilised societies, there are the same moral limitations on what one may say as what one may do.

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Re: Anonymous posting

"You may not like what a person says to you, but that is still their right to say it..."

Actually, not entirely true. Courts have repeatedly ruled that some forms of speech are NOT protected, and you have no right to 'unprotected' speech.

Defamitory, inciting, and provcative speach that boils down to what one justice called 'fighting words' are on the short list of things that may put you in legal jeopardy. Likewise, the classic "fire" in crowded theater - Unless there really *is* a fire.

In this case, the instigators have accused a person of specific, reprehensible crimes without recourse to court judgement or evidence - accusations that very plausibly have been injurious to her social and financial well-being. Indeed, an un-informed third party might well act on those baseless accusations, thereby plausibly placing her physical safety in jeopardy. That puts the bullies squarely in the cross-hairs of the law.

In short - your right to be a mouthy annoyance ends when your words cross certain lines.

Now - Has actual harm been done? I dunno. This is why we have courts - but in order to get a judgement, first we need to know who these idiots are.

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Re: Anonymous posting

"Especially if you happened to live in Britain. I take it from some of the stories posted here, it's one of their last shooting offenses, and the cops aren't too particular about making sure the trial comes first"

Being shot by the police no-questions-asked is for "being brown in a built up area". Paedophilia is a lynching.

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Re: Anonymous posting

"If I accused you of being a paedo here on El Reg, even as an AC, I think you'd feel a bit differently about that."

Puhlease, the EDL members on social networking sites constantly do this...

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Anonymous Coward

Good.

Too many people use anonymity to post hateful, bullying bile that they would never say to someone's face, or if their real name were attached to it.

Before anyone accuses me of double standards for posting anon, I do so only because of threats I have received posting under my real name.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Good.

You are describing the 'Online Disinhibition Effect':

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_disinhibition_effect

...or as it is more affectionately known, the 'Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory':

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19

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Re: Good.

@AC - "Before anyone accuses me of double standards for posting anon, I do so only because of threats I have received posting under my real name." Are you saying you have received threats from posting on The Register? I doubt it.

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Anonymous Coward

Really?

She couldn't have just changed her Facebook settings to hide her personal details and to prevent them messaging her...?

Besides, she's done the easy bit getting the IPs, just ask one Andrew Crossley how difficult it will be proving anything on an IP address.

AC cause they're probably after me now.

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Headmaster

Re: "She couldn't have just changed..."

Other reports have mentioned allegations that the unidentified perp(s) created a fake account in Ms Brooks' name. I'm not sure why El Reg omitted that.

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WTF?

Re: Really?

That's the first thing I thought - surely she "befriended" these people before they posted the comments, else was savvy enough to change the default security settings to share her updates with complete strangers...

Unless (and this is unlikely) this is seriously the first contact she's had with teh denizens of teh general internets and she's honestly surprised.

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FAIL

They should ban people going to court for things like this. It's a waste of public money. All she had to do was block the accounts offending her.

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Unhappy

re: All she had to do was block the accounts offending her.

When someone sets up a fake account in your name, and then sets about spamming all sorts of people with malign messages purporting to be from you, how do you block that?

Its a form of proxy attack, where they defame your reputation by their behaviour, and then you cop all the negative feedback that their actions create. Rather similar to when someone used your email address as a "from" contact on their spam campaign.

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Anonymous Coward

So many morons on this site

Just to explain - that is a general opinion

Benjamin 4 is a moron - now I am insulting an individual, do you see the difference?

Now if I were to create an account call Benjamin_4 and using that account post messages like 'I am a moron' that's a different thing again and depending on what is posted could even lead to the persons life being in danger

Now do you understand? Do you still think this is a non-issue?

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Facepalm

Huh? Why?

Actually, not that it was reported here, but Facebook didn't actually contest the court order. Thanks to our data protection laws, unless a court ordered them to, it would be illegal for them to release the data.

The alternative therefore to going to court is to allow Facebook et al to release information to anybody that asks, and imagine how much of an uproar that'd cause?

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Re: Huh? Why?

A lot of internet sites where comments are allowed have something hidden in the Ts and Cs (usually in plain sight if anyone ever bothers to read it) that allows them to cough up details on receipt of a court order. In most cases it's obvious that abuse has occurred and they'll provide the information, although it's not unknown for a site to appeal against an order when they don't think it's reasonable.

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Hmmm

Blocking abusive accounts achieves bugger all when the trolls can setup new ones in 5 minutes or less - I've been down this road in another case on another social networking website and we gave up after getting around 1200 accounts shut down in a 9 month period.

What's more worrying is what the law firm pointed out - that the police were utterly incompetent in the face of cyber-harrassment, resulting in one law for the rich/famous and another for the plebs. That's my experience too and I'm glad a law firm has decided to try and address this issue. In the case I was dealing with the police refused to even acknowledge it was a problem or record complaints and taking it down escalation paths got nowhere even though the identity of the troll was well established (She had a criminal record for GBH, and the threats weren't idle.)

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Why do they have to serve Facebook in the US? Surely they could serve Facebook in Ireland?

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Joke

Because the data is stored and served by the US company. The company in Ireland only exists to fiddle the accounts.

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