Woman taking Facebook to court to unmask trolls

There are some people out there on the web whose sad, empty lives revolve around harassing others online, delighting in the misery they cause by mocking, criticising or belittling others and their opinions. We call these people – among other words that are inappropriate in polite company – ‘trolls’. By and large, trolls are little more than a nuisance; you get used to seeing the same usernames popping up, and you learn to gloss over them in the knowledge that they have nothing useful to say. But there is a particularly evil breed of troll, who persists in targeting vitriolic abuse towards someone, to the point that their life becomes miserable.

Nicola Brookes, a 45-year-old British woman, has been the victim of such attacks. After she left a message of support on the Facebook page of an X-Factor contestant – who had himself received pejorative comments from other users – Ms Brookes found herself the target of a sustained campaign of abuse, in which she was accused of being a paedophile, and subjected to death threats.


Nicola Brookes, branded a paedophile and recipient of death threats on Facebook

Her daughter was a fan of The X-Factor, and when she saw that a teenage contestant on the show, Frankie Cocozza, had received disparaging remarks on his Facebook page, she left a supportive message for him, saying: “Keep your chin up, Frankie, they’ll move onto someone else soon.” Her words were sadly prescient, as just hours later, hundreds of abusive comments and threats had been directed towards her.

“Facebook users began deliberately targeting me, writing under my comment that I was a paedophile and hoping that I would die,” Ms Brookes told The Telegraph. “They started getting very personal, looking at my Facebook account, and talking about my appearance, my age, and my illness. I hadn’t invited any of it, but they ganged together and started inciting a sort of public hatred of me.” Trolls had even set up a fake Facebook profile in her name and with her photo, and used the account to send sexually explicit messages to children as young as nine years old.

Despite referring the matter to Sussex Police, no prosecutions have been made. While Ms Brookes and her lawyers point out that cases involving internet trolling appear only to be pursued when a celebrity is involved, Sussex Police insist that it is often too difficult to track down the anonymous online activity to those involved. A spokesman said: "We have looked at the material sent to us by Ms Brookes and we have made every effort to trace the person responsible for creating the false profile of her on Facebook, but this is notoriously difficult to prove."

For this reason, Ms Brookes is taking Facebook to court. Her court action is not directed against Facebook to hold the company to account for some unspecified failure, but rather aims to compel the company to comply in revealing details that would help to identify the persons who hid behind the veil of internet anonymity to attack her. The case represents a potential landmark in British justice, as it is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, and its outcome could have a significant impact on the use of social networks here.


The anti-social network?

Facebook did not wish to comment on the specifics of this case, but told The Telegraph: “We respond aggressively to reports of potential abuse. Reports involving harassment are prioritised, reviewed by a trained team of reviewers and removed if they violate our terms.”

Ms Brookes assertion regarding celebrity cases may not be entirely fair to the police, but it is fair to say that recent incidents involving public figures have raised awareness of the problem in the UK. Conservative Member of Parliament Louise Mensch was branded a “bitch” and a “whore” on Twitter, after her party distanced itself from comments made about Rupert Murdoch made by opposition politicians. One user said he would “love to hit Louise Mensch in the face with a hammer”.

In another incident, a British Twitter user was jailed for 56 days, following racial slurs directed towards footballer Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a massive cardiac arrest in the middle of a match.


Image of Ms Brookes via The Telegraph; Facebook image based on an original by .NET

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48 Comments

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Welcome to the internet lady, please watch your step. Your privacy is your own responsibility, anything you say can and will come back to haunt you. We would like to ask that you please don't feed the trolls, and we hope you enjoy your stay.

And yet another reason Facebook needs to be shut down... I hope all those that buy stock in it lose all their money when it goes belly up and we finally as a society learn to be "Social" once again. If I want to be social I go to talk to someone face to face - I interact instead of going online with facebook which I don't have or will ever have.

Should we shut down phone services too? And letter writing?

No, the fault isn't with Facebook, but with how *some* people are using it. One can easily write death threats by mail or call someone and insult them - but that's not an argument to shut those services down.

'In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted."'

Maybe I am wrong but until now my understanding of trolling was something around these lines:

Trolling = Getting into a Justin Bieber's fan forum and posting comments questioning his sexuality, preferably accompanied of some poor Photoshop collage.

Sending death threats to a woman and calling her a pedophile = Harassment and bullying.

pmdci said,
'In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted."'

Maybe I am wrong but until now my understanding of trolling was something around these lines:

Trolling = Getting into a Justin Bieber's fan forum and posting comments questioning his sexuality, preferably accompanied of some poor Photoshop collage.

Sending death threats to a woman and calling her a pedophile = Harassment and bullying.


asking captain obvious questions etc,, = trolling, so I agree with you.

its probably just 1 single troll controlling a hundred bot generated accounts... like this guy here, "http://www.facebook.com/baiaContest"; He has scammed a local and nation wide companies by voting by using "likes" in any contest he can find. He controls all the accounts and can post 100's of times in just a few minutes using his bot system.

rippleman said,
its probably just 1 single troll controlling a hundred bot generated accounts... like this guy here, "http://www.facebook.com/baiaContest"; He has scammed a local and nation wide companies by voting by using "likes" in any contest he can find. He controls all the accounts and can post 100's of times in just a few minutes using his bot system.

I wouldn't doubt there's someone like him controlling the many accounts posting "Like this if you think baby is cute! ignore if you think its ugly" type pictures. There's no way to block them either.

smooth_criminal1990 said,
Surely part of the problem is the fact that there ARE 9 year-olds on Facebook? I thought you had to be 13 or older?

Yeah thats exactly what i was thinking. Get them removed.

She doesn't have a case... how exactly is this Facebooks fault? Facebook is a service. Signup is voluntary. If you can't handle the comments and remarks of others..... DELETEEEEE your account and move on... or block.... or get a life and stop trolling. Facebook has done a lot to improve privacy and so many options are available...

Kirkburn said,
The article explains this. She's not blaming Facebook, she just wants to unmask the perpetrators.

Yes I know but Facebook is the one being taken to court and is having to pay the legal fees. I don't see Facebook giving her any details about the users especially after investing so much money and time in privacy and giving the user control of what they want kept confidential. This alone would raise some privacy issues in the Facebook community. She should have hired a private investigator and not gone after Facebook for it imo

It doesn't say who might have to pay the legal fees, only that Facebook might be compelled to reveal the identities of the perpetrators, and not even necessarily to her - but to the police.

A private investigator would be much worse, and almost completely ineffectual. What's he going to do, infiltrate Facebook?

chago12 said,
this woman needs to grow up. idiot

In what way is she an 'idiot', or does she need to grow up? Is being called a paedophile and receiving death threats truly a daily fact of life? Perhaps, if you spend you life on troll sites, but not for everyone else.

Kirkburn said,

In what way is she an 'idiot', or does she need to grow up? Is being called a paedophile and receiving death threats truly a daily fact of life? Perhaps, if you spend you life on troll sites, but not for everyone else.
Block the profiles, report the posts to Facebook, make her profile private, realize it's just the internet, stop using Facebook, I could continue but as an adult I expect other mentally capable adults to use their freaking heads and stop complaining every time somebody doesn't like them. Weren't these the same adults that said "sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me"?

Wonder what happened there. Oh that's right, everybody got a hold of the internet and became whiny little bi**hes who all hate the government but run to them every time someone says something they don't like in cyberspace.

Well, be sure to remember what you said here if you ever receive death threats, or people insulting you to your face and friends ... and do nothing. Let the bullies win.

Don't like whats happening to you on Facebook? Don't use it!! Simple!! She is like those teenagers who get bullied in chatrooms and cry and whinge about it when they could simply NOT visit the chatroom.

sam232 said,
Don't like whats happening to you on Facebook? Don't use it!! Simple!! She is like those teenagers who get bullied in chatrooms and cry and whinge about it when they could simply NOT visit the chatroom.
That's insane. Why should she not be able to use Facebook because some people decide to troll, insult and threaten her? That's hardly the purpose of Facebook, to hear personal insults from random people.

Would you tell someone to completely stop using their phone because someone is making threatening calls, instead of stopping the person making the calls?

Edited by Kirkburn, May 14 2012, 11:09am :

Kirkburn said,
That's insane. Why should she not be able to use Facebook because some people decide to troll, insult and threaten her? That's hardly the purpose of Facebook, to hear personal insults from random people.

Would you tell someone to completely stop using their phone because someone is making threatening calls, instead of stopping the person making the calls?

Unlike the phone Facebook is not a necessity, it's something you can use but it's not like life will end if you don't use it, so let's stop acting like FB/Twitter, etc are some kind of necessity or a right that needs to be protected

^ tbh, it's nice to see the Neowin community with their own opinions and not a generic sob for the person

Dan~ said,
^ tbh, it's nice to see the Neowin community with their own opinions and not a generic sob for the person

there is opinions and then there is people who just add comments to support trolls, kinda like your double post.

nice to see the neowin community offering support for this woman.

props to her for taking this action against facebook

^ The only thing illegal was the death threats, everything else is perfectly legal, it's stupid what they did but still legal.

Dan~ said,
^ The only thing illegal was the death threats, everything else is perfectly legal, it's stupid what they did but still legal.

Isn't making her out to be a paedophile tantamount to slander? If so, that's illegal in the UK.

Dan~ said,
^ The only thing illegal was the death threats, everything else is perfectly legal, it's stupid what they did but still legal.


Distributing pornography to minors... Illegal
Slander... Illegal

The Teej said,

Isn't making her out to be a paedophile tantamount to slander? If so, that's illegal in the UK.

It would be libel since it was in written form, and no, it isn't illegal in the UK, not since 2010. Criminal libel was abolished back then, civil libel still exists (which the vast majority of the time is what people are referring to when they mention libel) but that isn't "illegal" as it is not a criminal act.

boo_star said,

It would be libel since it was in written form, and no, it isn't illegal in the UK, not since 2010. Criminal libel was abolished back then, civil libel still exists (which the vast majority of the time is what people are referring to when they mention libel) but that isn't "illegal" as it is not a criminal act.

Fair enough, cheers for the info

What they did to her was illegal and she has every right to find out who they were and have them brought to justice. Do people really not have anything better to do than make other people's lives miserable?

Software should default to private mode. So you're savvy? You know how to change those settings, non-technical people do not. The people who build these tools know better. YOU know better and so your comments support the trolls ultimately making you a troll as well.

JAB Creations said,
Software should default to private mode. So you're savvy? You know how to change those settings, non-technical people do not. The people who build these tools know better. YOU know better and so your comments support the trolls ultimately making you a troll as well.

Not like every paper and site in the world hasn't been running stories on how bad open profiles are and how to lock down your profile for the average person...

JAB Creations said,
Software should default to private mode.

software shouldnt default to anything but what the develop intends. you should read the terms of service and if you dont agree then dont use it.

HawkMan said,
And why did she have an open profile then

Why shouldn't she? Why does having an open profile mean she take issue with what happened?

JAB Creations said,
Software should default to private mode. So you're savvy? You know how to change those settings, non-technical people do not. The people who build these tools know better. YOU know better and so your comments support the trolls ultimately making you a troll as well.

Back before facebook, people were weary of giving even their first name out, let alone spilling the beans of what they had for breakfast (see what I did there!).

The fact that this woman doesn't know how to click a few boxes on the site she's openingly providing all her information to, suggests she won't know how fake accounts work either.
They are fake.

This really is one of those cases where she should learn think before she gobs off on the internet as a keyboard warrior. She wouldn't do it in real life so why do it on the internet.
Think about it, for a second. You see 1 person getting abused by 100 people in real life, do you walk up to them and shout "They'll turn to someone else soon, don't give up. Here is my full details of who I am, and everything thats happend and is happening in my life right now, Take it as you please. Oh and I'm not going to bother reporting to the authorities this until you guys target me instead."


There is no excuse for that kind of stupidity. And people wonder why there are trolls... *rolls eyes*.

sagum said,
Um, she said 'Keep your chin up, Frankie, they'll move onto someone else soon'.

How on earth does that make her a 'keyboard warrior'? Am I being a keyboard warrior for pointing that out? Is it somehow a pejorative term referring to offering people support?

What have 'fake accounts' got to do with anything? They still have an owner, whether or not the information on it is valid.

If I told you my name or my location, does that make me a valid target of abuse? Obviously not, so why would it apply to her?

JAB Creations said,
Software should default to private mode. So you're savvy? You know how to change those settings, non-technical people do not. The people who build these tools know better. YOU know better and so your comments support the trolls ultimately making you a troll as well.

There needs to be a test before you should be allowed to use the internet or a computer. We have them for flying a plane, driving a car, technology should be no different. People are required to learn to drive a car and the rules of the road before they're given a license, it should be no different. That way it would rule out the people who are too ignorant to learn how to use a computer properly or how to use websites/the internet while protecting themselves.

While she clearly doesn't deserve the level of abuse she received, when you publicly declare your support for that X-Factor tosspot you are asking for trouble.

Dan~ said,
Block - Job done

Block who? It's fairly obvious it wasn't just a couple of people. (And blocking is a post-event control).