The U.K.'s high court established a legal precedent recently when it ordered Facebook to reveal the identities of several online trolls. Nicola Brookes brought the Facebook cyberbullying case to court after receiving "vicious and depraved" messages and comments on the social networking site.
Following a comment Brookes posted in support of former "X Factor" contestant Frankie Cocozza, the 45-year-old mother received numerous abusive messages from Facebook users who set up fake online profiles. According to the Guardian, the online bullies falsely branded Brookes as a paedophile and drug dealer.
This case is one of the first to mandate that Facebook turn over the identities of problem users. Decided on May 30, the court order requires that Facebook hand over the names, email and IP addresses of four alleged Internet trolls. Once their identities are revealed, Brookes plans to use that information to formally prosecute the individuals.
Facebook has yet to receive the Norwich Pharmacal order, which must be physically served to the company's headquarters in the U.S. under California law. A rep for the social network says the company plans to comply.
"There is no place for harassment on Facebook, but unfortunately a small minority of malicious individuals exist online, just as they do offline," a Facebook spokesman told The Huffington Post. "We have built a robust reporting infrastructure that deals with harassment as a priority and we have teams that investigate and take action quickly."
Facebook offers several anti-bullying services including a Family Safety Center and associated page, along with its "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" page the social network launched last year. "Fans" or subscribers receive regular updates on Facebook's efforts to combat cyberbullying and tips on how to stay safe.
Most recently, Facebook announced initial testing of a support dashboard that lets users track their reported complaints.
For Brookes, it all started with a pleasant comment Brookes posted on "X Factor" contestant Cocozza’s Facebook page in November. "Keep your chin up, Frankie, they’ll move onto someone else soon," Brookes wrote, according to Digital Trends.
Critics of Cocozza turned their gaze toward Brookes and began sending her hostile messages, making the insults personal by targeting her appearance and age. The abuse escalated when Brookes' photo was used to set up a fake Facebook profile in her name and inappropriate and explicit messages were sent out from that account to underage girls.
But the abuse did not stop there. The online trolls followed Brookes to other websites, including a recipe forum, and continued their attacks. They also went so far as posting her home address online.
"Nicola is housebound so she uses social networking very frequently," Brookes' lawyer, Rupinder Bains, told the BBC. "It's always there - it doesn't matter what she does, they are everywhere she is."
Brookes' cyberbullying situation has become quite commonplace in the digital realm. Cyberbullies often use fake online profiles to launch their vicious attacks without fear of being caught.
Last month, the family of a Georgia teen filed libel suits against two of their daughter's classmates for creating fake Facebook page in her name that was riddled with racist and sexual comments.
The first step in making a case against a cyber-attacker is identifying the real-life person. To file a lawsuit, victims must have the identity of their online bullies. Numerous teens have been brought up on cyberbullying charges in the U.S. when their real-life identities are known.
After receiving no help from local authorities, Brookes decided to take matters into her own hands and sought out the identities of her cyberbullies through the court system. Once Facebook reveals the identities of the four alleged online trolls who harassed Brookes to the authorities, she will will have a case she can take to court.
"I want them exposed. They exposed me and they invaded my life," Brookes told the Guardian. "I didn't ask for it. They wanted a reaction from me and now they have got it."
Check out the gallery below to see other situations in which people were arrested for a Facebook post.
In December 2010, a former New York EMT, Mark Musarella, pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct and disorderly conduct, according to the AP. "Prosecutors say Musarella responded to a March 30, 2009, emergency call in Staten Island, where he snapped a picture of a woman who had been strangled. He then posted the image on [Facebook], the AP also writes.
In July 2011, Joseph Bernard Campbell said he would plead guilty to charges of cyberstalking and unauthorized access to a computer. "At least 19 women were victimized by a computer hacker who broke into their email accounts, captured risqué photographs of the women and then swapped them for the women's Facebook profile pictures, authorities say," reports Tampa Bay Online.
In Carson City, Nevada a group of six girls (ages 12 to 13) were arrested in January 2011 for allegedly posting threatening comments on the wall of a Facebook event titled "Attack A Teacher Day." According to the Nevada Appeal, posts apparently written by the girls contained the word "attack." "All of the girls said it was just a joke," Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Rivera told the Appeal.
In April 2011, two preteen girls from a Seattle suburb were charged with cyberstalking and first-degree computer trespassing. Reuters reports that the girls "allegedly post[ed] sexually explicit photos and comments on the Facebook page of a 12-year-old classmate" and were "accused of using the third girl's computer address to send out instant message solicitations for sex using her name."
London Eley of Philadelphia allegedly used Facebook to find and hire someone to kill Corey White, the father of her child. "I will pay somebody a stack to kill my baby father," Eley wrote, according 6ABC.com. A man named Timothy Bynum allegedly accepted Eley's offer, writing, "say no more," "what he look like?" and "need dat stack 1st," reports 6ABC.com. White alerted the authorities to the alleged correspondence between Eley and Bynum, both of whom were taken into custody in June 2011. White was shot in August while Eley and Bynum remained in jail.
After days of riots and looting rocked U.K. cities earlier in August, the BBC reported that authorities had arrested several people for allegedly inciting violence via Facebook posts. According to ZDNET, Scotland Yard had said it would seek out individuals believed to have written "really inflammatory, inaccurate" Facebook messages. By the end of August, nearly 2,000 had been arrested in connection with the riots, reports the Guardian.
In April 2011, Houston police apprehended four suspects in a bank robbery case. Police said that suspicious Facebook posts led them to connect the group, including two bank tellers, to the heist. The following are among the alleged Facebook posts, according to the Houston Chronicle: ""Get $$$" and "'WIPE MY TEETH WITH HUNDEREDS [sic]."
An Illinois teenager was arrested in May 2011 for allegedly distributing (via Facebook) a provocative list that ranked the physical appearance of 50 girls from his high school. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the list in question "described the girls by explicit, derogatory nicknames and assessed their physical appearance, sexual desirability, sexual activity and other characteristics". The Associated Press lists nicknames like "Fallen Angel," "Blond Bombshell" and "The Hangover." "He obviously offended people but he also has a right to free speech," criminal defense attorney Mark Gottesman told The Huffington Post.
In September 2010, Robert Nickson Jr, a 27 year-old Pennsylvania man was arrested for an alleged relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Writes ABC News: A Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division's special task force, nicknamed Operation Triad, which investigates child pornography and predators, was tipped off by the county's child welfare agency after Nickson posted photos of himself and the girl online.
Former U.S. Congress candidate Cheryl Allen was arrested and charged in January 2011 for reportedly threatening several civil servants. According to the Associated Press, "The alleged threats mentioned four Morgan County judges, and other public officials [...] were mentioned by first name. Media reports said Allen had previously filed a discrimination lawsuit that was dismissed by a judge."
In late January 2011, a group of four Florida teens, ages 13 through 14, were arrested at their school for allegedly directing threats towards another classmate via Facebook. "Mistakenly believing that a middle school classmate had caused the arrest of a friend, a quartet of Florida teenagers exchanged Facebook messages discussing the killing of the suspected 'snitch,'" reports The Smoking Gun. The Smoking Gun also published some of the purported threats, detailed in the police report: - "He ruined my bestfriend's life! And ima end his!!" - "Oh that little bitch is dead. Just u have to show me who he is first then he is dead." - "IMA HELP KILL HIM!! THAT PUNK RUINED OUR LIVES!! HES SOO DEAD!!"
In May 2011 Chicago resident Ruth Ramirez, 26, turned herself in to police over an alleged bar brawl in April, during which Ramirez was said to have broken a glass in another woman's face. According to a statement by police, reported by Chicago Breaking News, a friend of the victim was on Facebook the day after the fight and noticed a post describing the incident in detail. "She showed the post to the victim, who identified her attacker by the photograph posted on the profile. [...] The victim called police and gave them the information, and an investigative alert was issued," wrote CBN.
In February 2011, Eric James Wilson, 21, was arrested in Palm Bay, Florida for allegedly assaulting his then-wife. According to ZDNET, police charged Wilson with "battery domestic violence and a misdemeanor." The fight reportedly started after Wilson changed his Facebook relationship status from "married" to "single."