Privacy Laws Can Punish Facebook Revenge
The woman was shocked, outraged, embarrassed and humiliated when her ex-boyfriend posted sexually explicit photos of her on Facebook. The man had 16 photos and two videos he’d taken of her during their relationship, but when she left him he posted them on social media for all to see.
It’s called revenge porn. Sadly it happens far too often and the problem is getting worse. It’s aimed to humiliate and hurt. Entire web sites are devoted to running such violations – described by some as internet rape. They sometimes include the victim’s name and contact details. It’s mean, vicious and ugly. The law has yet to properly catch up with this violation of a person’s rights, but a recent court case opens new possibilities of a legal avenue to get recompense.
The woman who was a victim of the ex-boyfriend’s deplorable action decided to take a stand. They had worked together on a remote mine and she felt she couldn’t continue to work there. The man had identified her on the Facebook site – which had 300 ‘friends’ – saying the photos were “out there for everyone to see” and “can’t wait to see you fold as a human being”.
She took the man to court seeking compensation for her emotional distress for his breach of confidence.
West Australian Supreme Court Justice Robert Mitchell heard the case. Her lawyer argued she was entitled to an injunction under the law of breach of confidence to restrain her former boyfriend from posting the images, along with compensation for loss of wages, embarrassment and distress.
It’s difficult under existing breach of confidence laws to win compensation for emotional distress. A plaintiff usually has to prove financial loss. To rectify this a report last year by the Australian Law Reform Commission set out elements for possible civil action for serious invasions of privacy allowing damages for emotional distress.
Justice Mitchell said the only similar legal case he could find stemmed from an event in 1996 when a woman’s former partner sent copies of sexually explicit videos of the pair to friends and family. She sued and won compensation.
In January Justice Mitchell awarded the female victim $48,404 in compensation from the man. It was a sweet victory for the woman. Far from being the one to “fold”, it was the man who lost his job at the mine, suffered a very public humiliation and was left to pay significant compensation and court costs. While the law has sometimes been slow to respond to the new challenges that arise in today’s digital and social media world, this case shows that bad behavior online is just as unacceptable as bad behavior in the real world.