In a news report filed by the Press Association, a judge in Ireland’s High Court has ordered Google, YouTube and Facebook to remove a defamatory viral video from all their websites across the internet.
In a classic case of ‘David and Goliath’, the Irish judge ruled in favour of a 23 year-old Dublin university student who was wrongly identified as a person that was part of a group that was dodging paying a taxi fare in the early hours of November 2011 in Monkton, south Dublin.
Eoin McKeogh was subjected to what Mr Justice Michael Peart colourfully described as “a miscellany of the most vile, crude, obscene and generally obnoxious comments” across the social media networks.
And the judge wasn’t too impressed either with the fact that Google, YouTube and Facebook had shown total indifference to Eoin McKeogh’s plight when he complained to them that it was a case of mistaken identity and in fact he’d been in Japan at the time and had passport stamps to prove it!
The judge said it had been a “surprise” that Google, YouTube and Facebook hadn’t bothered to assist Eoin McKeogh more willingly and each were given one month to remove the defamatory video and related comments, tags and threads from the internet or face further sanctions. The companies are now consulting technical experts in how to do this and have a couple of weeks to come up with a plan.
An injunction trying to stop newspapers from naming Eoin McKeogh as the man wrongly accused of being in the video failed in early 2012 and the present action was a desperate attempt to force the three internet giants to remove the video from their servers in order to put an end to the outrageous vilification of the student.
Clearly ‘trolls’ had attempted to hide behind the cloak of anonymity afforded to them by using aliases and pet names to post comments and bile about an innocent person. And in this orgy of cowardice they’d been effectively aided and abetted by Google, YouTube and Facebook.
“All manner of nasty and seemingly idle minds got to work on the plaintiff, and as seems to happen with apparent impunity nowadays on social media sites, said whatever thing first came into their vacant, idle and meddlesome heads by posting statements about the plaintiff so vile and abusive that I ought not to repeat them here. It must be borne in mind that most of these people do not know the plaintiff and have never met him. Nevertheless, they felt free to name and brand him as a criminal,” said the judge.
The quick-thinking taxi driver recorded the incident on his mobile phone and uploaded the video to YouTube in the hope of tracking down the culprits. Instead, this sparked a tidal wave of defamatory posts wrongly naming the plaintiff.
To make matters worse, a false Facebook page was created on the back of the video. The judge recognised that Eoin McKeogh had been forced to resort to legal action as all attempts to remove the video on his return from Japan had become futile as it had gone viral.
The judge also expressed concerns about the length of time the case had taken and the undue stress it would have caused as the student was trying to get on with his studies.
The judge accepted that the case could open the floodgates for others offended by videos posted about them on these social media sites but he also criticised the conduct of the defendants for forcing an additional 10 days of hearings and a mountain of paperwork in an attempt to win their argument that they had no responsibility to the Plaintiff for the anxiety that clearly had been caused.
Damages in defamation weren’t going to be enough to compensate the student for the harm that continued to be done to his name and reputation so long as the video and its associated comments were allowed to remain in cyberspace.
“This is splendid stuff from an Irish judge letting rip and what a great example of how social media issues can result in the most hideous litigation. Perhaps the clearest message is that as an ordinary person you mess with YouTube, Google and Facebook at your peril,” observes Mark Warby QC, one of the UK’s leading media and defamation silks.
A full ruling on the level of damages to be awarded by the High Court will be decided at a later date.
Ardi Kolah is author of Essential Law for Marketers (£19.99) published by Kogan Page and available from Amazon. Click the cover to order your copy today!