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.