Creation of a fake profile on Facebook – the popular social networking website - by a former school friend has resulted in an award of £22,000 in damages to businessman Matthew Firsht and his company, Applause Store Productions.
The case illustrates how a determined claimant can prove the source of internet posts.
In July 2007 Mr Firsht, the claimant, discovered that somebody had set up a Facebook profile in his name. The profile contained a mixture of true and false private material including his photograph, date of birth, relationship status, purported sexual preferences, and his political and religious views. A group had also been created in his name called “Has Matthew Firsht Lied to You?” This group made false and defamatory allegations concerning his ability and that of his company to pay their debts.
Facebook Inc. removed the profile at Mr Firsht’s request and he then obtained a Norwich Pharmacal Order disclosing the registration data provided by the creator of the offending material. A Norwich Pharmacal Order is a means of obtaining disclosure against a third party who has been caught up, sometimes innocently, in wrongdoing. These orders have recently become popular as a means of identifying anonymous posters on the internet. Although a person posting defamatory material will often hide their identity, it is likely that they will have registered at some point, providing personal details, such as name and address. If a wrongdoing has been committed and the only way to trace the offender is through personal details held by the website, a court would usually order the disclosure of these personal details.
The evidence in this case indicated that the IP address used to create the profile and the group page was the Defendant’s.
The case shows that it is possible for a claimant to identify the author of internet posts to an extent that many people may not be aware of. In this case, Mr Firsht was able to identify the origin of the offending material down to the very specific times the material was posted and the specific flat in which it was created. Fortunately, the publicity received by this case should help to change the perception that the internet is completely unregulated and that offences occurring on-line will go un-checked.