Social Media disputes: some cause for optimism? – Alex Cochrane

10 09 2015

Social MediaOne of the unsavoury consequences of the enormous increase in the use of social media in recent years has been the surge in online attacks on innocent people, whether it be in the form of libel, harassment or breach of privacy. Countless such attacks are committed on a daily basis, often by individuals hiding behind anonymity who, on the face of it, appear to be unidentifiable.

There are a number of legal routes available to identify and pursue the individuals responsible but they can be expensive and success will often depend on how technologically sophisticated the perpetrator is; for instance, he or she may use encryption or seek to hide behind a complex series of proxy servers.

Technology will always advance faster than the law, and media lawyers are used to playing catch up in that respect, but a recent High Court decision has given some cause for optimism for those trying to protect their reputation online.

Earlier this summer, in the case of DDF v YYZ, the High Court ordered an injunction against an unknown defendant to prevent harassment and to restrain the publication of private information. The court also made an order under CPR 6.15 that the unknown defendant could be served via Instagram, the social media platform that provides a photo-sharing service, because that was the only means by which the claimant was able to bring the terms of the injunction to the defendant’s attention.

This case follows a line of previous decisions where the English courts have made orders allowing for service of legal documents via social media, first via Twitter (in October 2009) and then via Facebook (in February 2012).

The most recent social media giant to emerge is Instagram which now has more monthly users than Twitter and it currently lies in second place, behind Facebook, in terms of its global number of active users. As its popularity has risen so sharply over the last year, it should come as no surprise that Instagram has now joined that elite group of social media platforms by which it may be possible to effect service of legal documents.

At a time when so many people are using social media to inflict attacks on others (no doubt sitting in a darkened room; they would never have the courage to say these things face to face), it is fitting that the English courts recognise that the victims should be able to use social media themselves in their efforts to bring their attackers to justice. 

Alex Cochrane is a senior associate in the Defamation & Reputation Management team and the Cyber Investigation Unit at Collyer Bristow LLP.


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