In this article, Michael Axe looks at the first English High Court case to address the use of "fake profiles" on Facebook, as well as other recent developments in relation to defamation on the internet.
In the case of Applause Store Productions Limited & Mathew Firsht v Grant Raphael, Mr Firsht initiated proceedings after discovering that someone had created a fake profile in his name on Facebook. Mr Firsht was a relatively well-known figure in the television industry who ran a successful company (the other claimant). The fake profile included a mixture of true and false statements about private matters, as well as a link to a Facebook group which included false and defamatory allegations regarding the ability of Mr Firsht and his company to pay their debts.
The Court's decision in this case clearly illustrates the dangers of posing as someone else (or otherwise defaming someone) on Facebook, even if the offending material has only been seen by a very small number of people. This case also illustrates that people and/or companies that find themselves the subject of defamatory statements published via Facebook may be able to obtain quite extensive information from Facebook which could allow them to track down the anonymous author. However, commercial caution must always exercised to ensure that a heavy-handed approach does not exacerbate the potentially limited nature of the original publication, and to also ensure that disproportionate costs are not incurred tracking down a defendant who may ultimately not have sufficient funds to be worth suing.
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