Porn lawsuit intended to send Facebook a message: Be responsive to privacy violations

A plaintiff in Texas is seeking $123,000,000 from Facebook after the company ignored her requests, and failed to take down an “imposter” page bearing her name and photos of her face on someone else’s body, engaged in pornographic activity. Plaintiff demands ten cents for each of Facebook’s 1.23 billion users, and wants the company’s “officers, directors, management, employees, and subscribers” to “stand up, take notice and pay attention to serious privacy violations concerns [sic] involved in revenge porn situations…”.

Habeas Hard Drive’s own experience bears out the claim that damsels-in-distress have a very tough time making Facebook care about revenge porn. Habeas has worked on cases with similar overtones, where a malicious “ex-friend” (as the Texas plaintiff delicately puts it), circulates embarrassing materials, usually sexual in nature, either by posting them outright on the site or by sending them directly to Facebook friends on the Facebook email system.

It’s agonizing for the humiliated party, who needs help from the social media site to positively identify the harasser or to remove the offending material, or both. The weeks turn into months with no action from Facebook.

Here’s the bottom line, Habeas Hard Drive believes. Facebook and all big-data-social-media-telecom players respond very nicely to law enforcement requests. Civil matters seem to be pushed to the back burner.

There are a few possible solutions, but none is a slam dunk. Getting the police involved can be effective, but produces other, truly messy side-effects, especially if the adversaries are a warring married couple or former spouses with children.

You can try approaching Facebook with your digital forensics expert in tow. This sometimes yields results, because the Facebook technical staff sometimes responds to technical ideas and technical language. Or you might try the Texas approach, and sue Facebook. (The “ex-friend” is named as co-defendant.) We’ll take a wait-and-see attitude while we watch this drama play out.

Finally, the legal community can raise its voice in a coordinated campaign to get due consideration from Facebook for people with a need to discover the identity of harassers, enabling them to pursue legitimate and timely civil claims without having to sue Facebook or involve law enforcement.

As the Texas suit points out, both Facebook’s user agreement and its own self-created public persona portray it as a company that cares about privacy and respect for its users. That alone should commit its management to take these matters seriously, but lawyers need to gang up and formally insist.

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