Facebook to sue Daily Mail over paedophile headline - don't do it and here's why..

OK so Facebook bosses are naturally less than happy about the Daily Mail's coverage of a 'sex ring' in Devon that - it would appear - used social networking to prey on underage girls.

Facebook having been mentioned as one of the social networks paedophiles may have been using, the Daily Mail ran a headline: "How many more victims of Facebook sex gang?". The Mail removed the headline online but is pushing back on Facebook's demands to publish a full apology for having published the headline in the first place. Facebook has run to its lawyers who will no doubt give good advice but that is unlikely to provide a solution in this case - here's why:

An organisation such as Facebook can't sue for libel but could only bring an action for malicious falsehood if it could show that the Mail was being malicious and that Facebook had suffered actual loss as a result. There is nothing to suggest the Mail was targeting Facebook - it was just referencing it in its headline to associate to the idea of social networking - so malice is not going to stand up in a hurry. It is also unlikely that Facebook will be able to show or quantify any particularised loss as a result of the headline.

The headline 'Facebook sex gang' on objective reading does not suggest that it was a Facebook-led or organised or sponsored 'sex gang' but rather - in line with the story and coverage - a 'sex gang' that used Facebook (among other social networks) to engage in its paedophile activities. So the adjective 'Facebook' attaches to the Sex Gang as an adjective rather than as a noun with Facebook being the lead on the subject.

Of course not organisation wants to have its name in the same headline as "Sex Gang" but that doesn't mean that the headline or decision to publish it is of itself actionable.

The outrage that Facebook should be vocalising, dealing with and PR-ing is that a 'Sex Gang' or any such gang or paedophiles could be abusing its system/network for criminal ends. The PR opportunity for Facebook is to acknowledge that is - as indeed all social networking sites need to do more to protect the vulnerable online. If the media - in this case the Daily Mail - report on the fact that paedophiles may have used Facebook as one medium through which to prey on young girls then the fault lies not with the media for reporting this but for the social networks for not doing more to protect against this.

Facebook has missed a trick here - rather than seek to sue the Mail it should be teaming up with it in the 'Fight against online paedos'.

It also seems ironic that a supposedly progressive media platform such as Facebook would resort to the often maligned print-press originating (though now having online remit) PCC to complain about a newspaper - there are smarter online viral responses to be had.

Rather than squabble over being associated with paedophiles social and new media should be combining to introduce measures and fight against the acessiblity of modern mediums to sadly age-old perversions and do something positive rather than seek to sue each other over a problem they cannot solve.

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