Four jailed for defaming student on Facebook

In what could be one of the first cases of its kind, four people have been jailed for defamation following a complaint by a female student that they had posted pictures taken without her permission as well as offensive and sexually defamatory comments that had appeared on the social networking site. As Mediabeak reported recently, bulletin board and chatroom contributors need to beware as what they may consider to be personal postings are very much public publications and as such subject to defamation law.

This case is (as far as Mediabeak can ascertain) the first where Facebook users have been in the frame for posting objectionable content - there have been cases where Facebook comment has been cited in evidence to prove criminal intent but not in relation to defamation. The current case took place in Lebanon and was proscecuted under criminal law rather than via press related laws. There is some controversy surrounding the detention of the four accused. After a week in jail they were released but have still to stand trial.

Another interesting point is that the perpetrators found out that they were being reported to the authorities and deleted all the comments but the victim had saved copies and these were admitted as proof. From a legal point of view removing a posting will prevent it from further being capable of being defamatory but it will not make the fact it was online and capable of being read by infinite amounts of people go away - it was still published and the fact and effect of that publication will be admissable as evidence.

There are differences across jurisdictions in how defamation is litigated - in this case the criminal option was used while in the UK one would follow a civil action. Facebook itself is not liable as has a disclaimer in its terms of use and cannot be expected to police all of the content it facilitates worldwide. If however it had been made aware of misuse of its service and offensive material and done nothing to address or prevent this then arguably it could attract liability.

What is clear is that what may be seen as 'social networking' is equally 'social comment' and where such comment is defamatory it will be subject to the same laws as any other form of publication.

More in this case from Menassat - an interesting Lebanese site Mediabeak has been reading

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