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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  1. David Gosnell

    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.

  2. jonathanb Silver badge

    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.

  3. JimmyPage Silver badge

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. Colin Millar

          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.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      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.

      1. laird cummings

        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.

        1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

          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.

          1. laird cummings

            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.

      2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge
        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.

      3. Alpha Tony

        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.

        1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

          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.

  4. ukgnome Silver badge

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      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.

      1. This Side Up
        FAIL

        Re: Facebook has a real name culture

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

      2. B4PJS

        Re: Facebook has a real name culture

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

        1. Stephen W Harris

          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"

    3. PaulR79

      @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.

  5. Peter Murphy
    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.

    1. Tom 13

      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.

    2. Old Handle
      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.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    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).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. Tom 13

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          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.

        2. The Jase

          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...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Re: Anonymous posting

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

      4. Homer 1
        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.

      5. laird cummings

        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.

    2. Tom 13

      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.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      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.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. The Original Cactus
      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.

    2. dotdavid
      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.

  9. Benjamin 4
    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.

    1. John 48
      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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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?

    3. Callam McMillan
      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?

      1. Number6

        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.

  10. Alan Brown Silver badge

    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.)

  11. Scuby

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

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

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

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook has a real name culture....

    HAHAHAHA! Funny.

    More like Facebook has a culture of shite holes posting shite!

    1. It wasnt me
      Happy

      @Obviously!

      I think you're on the wrong site. FB want you back.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeh sure, and everybody on irc is a script kiddie and all reg commentards are bearded, real ale drinking, 40+ year old men.

      Generalizations eh?

      1. Alpha Tony

        @AC

        'Yeh sure, and everybody on irc is a script kiddie and all reg commentards are bearded, real ale drinking, 40+ year old men.'

        What's your point?

        * Scratches beard and opens bottle of 'Old Thumper' *

        1. Lockwood
          Pint

          Alpha Tony

          Thumbs up for your choice of drink.

  14. nichomach

    I don't know why...

    ...The Reg has omitted to mention the significantly more serious aspect of the case, which was the establishment of a fake account in the victim's name which was then used to send inappropriate material to minors.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: I don't know why...

      Okay. Yeah, that's a big omission. Game changer really. Since it moves my previous hypothetical from "she's a paedo" accusation to her being FRAMED as a paedo. And why I said you are OWED your day in court even though I'd boil convicted perps in oil.

    2. Figgus

      Re: I don't know why...

      Yeah, that tidbit changed my thinking from "she just needs to grow some skin to be on the interwebz" to "identity fraud".

      Seems important, and should have been mentioned in the article.

  15. mark 63 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Real name culture

    My bank has a "Real Name Culture" too , but they want a bit more than my word dor it

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is simply OUTRAGEOUS...

    ...that someone would post somehting without revealing their real name!!

    Lousy bastards.

  17. Simon Jones [MSDL]
    FAIL

    It was the FAKE Account that was the important bit

    The nasty people allegedly set up a fake FB account _in_her_name_ and used that to attack other people and insinuate that she was up to no good.

    FB's alleged "Real-names culture" did nothing to stop this and the woman concerned tried all ways she could to get FB to do something about it which they ignored. Hence her need to resort to the law.

    Please try to report this story properly.

  18. The Jase

    Trolls

    And after she posted her support message and people starting ripping the piss out of it, how did she respond?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Regarding trolls

    have a look at this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz2jbCJXkpA

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Regarding trolls

      Thumbs down? Either you have no sense of humour or you are a troll who doesn't like it when somebody takes the piss out of your favourite pastime.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Will Facebook take any notice

    A UK court has just issued an order to a US company which is going to cause said US company some (minor) problems.

    What is the bet that said US company will completely ignore the UK court, which will be helpless since it does not actually have juristriction.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Will Facebook take any notice

      no problem if they don't - court just has zuck extradited to the uk. And of course a US court would put him straight on a plane - wouldn't they?

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Will Facebook take any notice

      I don't think Facebook are being obstructive here. It would be against the law for them to release someone else's personal data without a court order. Now they have the court order, I'm sure they will hand over the details.

    3. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re: Will Facebook take any notice

      you bet they are - more so, now they have "investors". The only way Facebook can actually return a profit to those investors is to encourage more people to sign up, and those that are signed up to use it more than they do.

      Anything which jepordises that will have to be fixed - pronto.

      Which makes me curious as to why the lady in question seemed to hit a brick wall originally. I suspect she must have made here complaints to the equivalent of the call centre, who didn't appreciate the importance of her claims.

      Now it's an above-the-fold story, I suspect FB are going to work very hard to make it go away as quickly as possible.

    4. laird cummings

      Re: Will Facebook take any notice

      "What is the bet that said US company will completely ignore the UK court, which will be helpless since it does not actually have juristriction."

      My bet? Zuck & Co. will happily roll over for the court order. They want good relations with other countries, as there's money to be made, and rolling to a court in this case will in no way hurt their image. All they need is a plausible excuse.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strange

    I set up a fake FB account on one of my friends who told FB that it was a fake account- actually just to see what they would do- at which point the suspended it and gave me 48 hour to get it reinstated.

    I'm no fan of FB but if they were using a dupe account from my experience its pretty damn easy to get the FB police involved.

  22. mickey mouse the fith

    Hmm

    Wow, what a sad little tale. All this because of a comment on x-factor. I have no idea who the singer/whatever on xfactor is or what they did, but its got to be a special type of simpleton to go to all the trouble of trolling and framing someone just for that.

    Religious nuts and politicical commentators are for trolling, but x-factor?

    I suspect theres more to this than were being told or the troll is just very,very sad.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Childcatcher

    RE: JimmyPage & mickey mouse the fith

    Why did she hit a brick wall initially? : UK cops don't really get cybercrime so much - especially if you are not famous.

    The x factor thing was one contestant who was kicked out for doing coke (yeah in the media and entertainment industry ... who'd have thought ! )

    I think her comment was probably along the lines of "yeah he was wrong, but he was young and so probably just a kid who did something stupid, like we've all done" ....

    Hope this helps and for the record, i am glad she won, i only hope *what* she won is of some use in finding the troll scum. trolls are just the mean bullys of the web and should just have a wank or something.

  24. mickey mouse the fith

    Re: Jeremy3

    How bizzare the troll went to all that effort to destroy someones life over a, to be honest quite reasonable comment on something so trivial (a crap tv show) that it has no bearing on anything.

    The great unwashed confuse me greatly sometimes :-(

    1. The Jase

      Re: Jeremy3

      "How bizzare the troll went to all that effort to destroy someones life over a, to be honest quite reasonable comment on something so trivial (a crap tv show) that it has no bearing on anything."

      Actually it was probably because of how she reacted to them slagging off her initial comments...

      Remember the internet is where a mouthy 12 year old girl gets beaten into submission (Jessi Slaughter) over a dumb comment that is typical of a 12 year old making.

      Its rough out there.

      Cracked recently had 4 Things You Shouldn't Do With the Internet. Read it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Holding people accountable is a good thing

    It's about time that people are held accountable for their actions.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About time too

    I'm sick of these anonymous cowards posting whatever shit they like.

    1. Boris S.

      Re: About time too

      Me too. <LOL>

  27. Purlieu

    Real names

    So FB are going to remove Beatles, Rollingstones, O2, Hoechst, Glaxo, etc tec then ?

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