Facebook and Irish police have been criticized for failing to quickly address complaints that the naked photos of a minor were posted on the site repeatedly.

Facebook has come to an out-of-court settlement with the legal team of a 14-year-old Northern Irish girl who had launched legal proceedings against the social media giant over naked pictures posted of her over a two-year period.

In a landmark legal case, Facebook, who has a European base in Dublin, is now to pay compensation to the teenage victim because her image was repeatedly shared on a so-called “shame page” in an act of revenge porn. Their admittance of guilt could open a floodgate of accusations about revenge porn they allowed.

Her picture was shared repeatedly to the page between November 2014 and January 2016. She was seeking damages for misuse of private information, negligence and breach of the Data Protection Act.

"The case had a very detrimental effect on (the victim’s) mental health. That is why her family decided to seek legal redress," said Pearse MacDermott, one of the victim’s lawyers.

"Had these images been put in a newspaper or on the TV there would be serious repercussions and those same repercussions should also apply to whatever platform is used in the social media world. 

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"The case moves the goal posts in the sense that Facebook always said it was up to the individual user to be responsible, not them. It now puts the onus on the provider to look at how they respond to indecent, abusive and other such images put on their platform.

"Whenever an image is put up that is clearly objectionable they should be able to stop that ever going up again. They should use the technology they have to be a responsible provider and remove the offensive post."

The Facebook payout could result in an onslaught of revenge porn cases brought against the company 

Other cases could now be taken against Facebook over revenge porn. Image: iStock.

Other cases could now be taken against Facebook over revenge porn. Image: iStock.

MacDermott believes that this case could now open the floodgates for victims of revenge porn holding Facebook to account for their role in their abuse.

"Should there be legislation to regulate the platform providers such as Facebook and Twitter?” he asked.

“I think there is a need to look at how social media organisations operate their systems and how they operate the material that comes onto their site."

The Irish police have also been criticized for their role in the case. Although Facebook are now making a payout, the culprit who posted the pictures to the site goes uncharged as it cannot be proven who was responsible. The teenager’s lawyers claim this is a result of the slow action of the Gardaí to respond to the claims of revenge porn when they were first brought forward, allowing time for the photo to be deleted.

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The person who posted the revenge porn picture can not be charged 

The person who posted the revenge porn will not be held accountable. Image: iStock.

The person who posted the revenge porn will not be held accountable. Image: iStock.

MacDermott has said it will have a “detrimental effect” on the young girl’s health that her abuser will not be brought to justice for their actions.

"The police carried out an investigation, but it took a long time. By the time they got around to investigate, whatever device had the photograph on it was gone. They therefore couldn’t substantiate who put (the images) up,” he said.

"Had they gone that day and discovered his phone and discovered the image on it, they could have done something, but unfortunately they didn’t do something for some time.

"In fairness, this began in 2014 so they may have improved their game since then. But in this case it was difficult to see why they didn’t act quicker,” MacDermott added.  

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Facebook is making attempts to combat revenge porn

The company has has tens of thousands of reported cases of revenge porn. Image: iStock.

The company has has tens of thousands of reported cases of revenge porn. Image: iStock.

Further details of the settlement are not known but Facebook are said to be covering the victim’s legal fees. The out-of-court payment is a rare act for the company which typically argues it has diminished responsibility for content posted on its site by others.

Facebook has now been warned that it faces a very significant number of cases in relation to complaints about revenge porn being posted on social networks. Revenge porn was criminalized in Northern Ireland in 2016 and can result in up to two years imprisonment.

Revenge porn, which Facebook  defines as attempts to use intimate imagery to shame, humiliate or gain revenge, has become a major issue on social media sites with as many as 54,000 suspected cases reported on Facebook alone in one month. Added to these are thousands of cases of “sexortion,” the name given to attempts to use the images to extort money or obtain more pictures.

The company has made some attempts to address the issue. In April 2017, they introduced a specific reporting feature for nude photos and since November have been piloting a new program in Australia which allows users to send intimate photos they don’t want online to the social network, which will then be hashed and blocked from being uploaded onto its network.

Should Facebook be held accountable for revenge porn on its site? 

Naked photos of the Northern Ireland teenager were repeatedly posted onto a so called “shame page” on the social media site over the course of two years.iStock