In Depth

Facebook's revenge porn trial: What will the consequences be?

Legal action featuring 14-year-old girl from Belfast 'could open the floodgates for other civil cases', warns lawyer

A legal case alleging that Facebook is liable for photos published on its website could radically change the way social media companies deal with explicit images.

What does the case involve?

A 14-year-old girl from Belfast is taking Facebook to court, arguing the company is liable for the publication of a naked picture of her posted repeatedly as an act of revenge on a "shame page".

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, alleges misuse of private information, negligence and breach of the Data Protection Act by Facebook.

Northern Ireland's high court rejected Facebook's attempt to have the case thrown out last week and a trial will begin early next year.

Is this a common problem?

Facebook has acted against so-called "revenge pornography" and "sextortion" since 2012, removing nude images when they are reported.

However, "recent events have shown just how difficult it is for Facebook to navigate the precarious path between censorship and protection, openness and responsibility", says The Guardian.

Last month, the company faced heavy criticism after it repeatedly removed Nick Ut's iconic 1972 photograph of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam.

What could the consequences be?

Potentially massive. The case has already resulted in "victims of revenge pornography seeking advice about whether they too could have grounds for legal action", says The Guardian. They may also seek damages.

"A case like this risks opening the floodgates for other civil cases to be taken against Facebook and other social media sites," says media lawyer Paul Tweed.

The suit also raises wider questions over whether Facebook is really just a platform for third-party content or whether it should instead be deemed, as many argue, a news and content publisher, which would make it accountable for images posted on it.

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