Facebook Revenge Porn Case Shows How Police Let A Perpetrator Get Away

In a landmark case, Facebook has agreed to a settlement with a teenager in Northern Ireland after a private photo of her was posted on a "shame page" on the platform "several times" from November 2014 through January 2016. However, the individual who posted the explicit photos of the girl without her consent won't face prosecution, and the girl's attorney blames police delays.

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Pearse MacDermott, one of the teen's lawyers from McCann and McCann Solicitors, said that because the Police Service of Northern Ireland failed to act with urgency, they weren't able to prove the alleged perpetrator posted the photos, the Irish Examiner reported. MacDermott said that he hoped police would "act with more haste" in future revenge porn cases.

"The police carried out an investigation, but it took a long time," MacDermott said, according to the Examiner. "By the time they got around to investigate, whatever device had the photograph on it was gone. They, therefore, couldn't substantiate who put (the images) up." MacDermott noted that police could have tried to find the intimate image on the phone of the person who posted it the same day the crime was reported, "but unfortunately they didn't do something for some time".

The case illustrates the challenges victims of revenge porn face in attempting to find any type of resolution. The first hurdle is getting whatever company is hosting the images to effectively remove them. The second is pursuing legal action, which, as this case shows, may involve law enforcement officers who fail to properly investigate the incident.

On the tech side, Facebook has implemented new tools since the case was first brought forward. In April of last year, the company announced that there would be a specific reporting feature for nude photos, and that it would use photo-matching software to automatically detect reported images across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Facebook also announced in November that it is piloting a new program in Australia that lets users send intimate photos they don't want online to the social network, which will then hash the images and block them from being uploaded to its network. But while tech companies have systems in place to help fight revenge porn, we have seen the machines aren't yet immune to screwups.

Facebook's settlement in the case - which the teen's attorneys say is the first of its kind - may result in more cases of this nature coming against the social media giant in the UK, according to MacDermott.

"The case moves the goal posts in the sense that Facebook always said it was up to the individual user to be responsible, not them," he said. "It now puts the onus on the provider to look at how they respond to indecent, abusive and other such images put on their platform."

While the full details of the teen's settlement with Facebook are confidential, the company did agree to pay her legal fees, the Irish Times reported.

As for the legal side, lawmakers in Northern Ireland criminalised revenge porn in February 2016, a year after it was outlawed in England and Wales. Those convicted of posting revenge porn can face up to two years in prison. But if police don't act quickly when instances of revenge porn are reported to them, they may not have a perpetrator to begin with.

"Certainly the fact it took the police a long time to get involved in the case and to deal with it is disappointing," MacDermott said. "I would hope that in future they would act with more haste."

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