Facebook compelled to hand over IP addresses in UK cyber-bullying case

In mid-May, UK resident Nicola Brookes began a legal campaign to reveal the identity — or identities — of the “Internet trolls,” who were bullying her on Facebook and elsewhere online. She has now won a court order to compel Facebook to provide the IP addresses of those responsible.

It began in November 2011, when Brookes posted a message of support on a UK talent show’s Facebook page, where a contestant was receiving unpleasant messages at the time, resulting in those already trolling turning their attention on her.

The trolling turned to bullying, with Brookes’ home address being published, her daughter being targeted online, and a fake Facebook profile being set up which insinuated she was a pedophile.

After being frustrated by the local police’s inaction, she turned to the law firm Bains Cohen, and this week has been granted a High Court order for Facebook to provide the IP addresses of those responsible for the abuse and the fake profile.

First of its kind in the UK

The social network will not contest the court order, and will reveal both the relevant IP addresses and basic information regarding the accounts. A Facebook spokesperson told the BBC that Facebook “is no place for harassment,” and that it “respects legal obligations and works with law enforcement to ensure such people are brought to justice.”

Brookes’ case is significant because it’s the first of its kind in the UK, but even though she will now have her tormentor’s IP addresses, her battle is far from over. Next she must get another court order for the relevant Internet Service Provider, to find out to whom the IP addresses are connected. Even then, it’s not certain the true identities of the bullies will be revealed.

Despite this initial breakthrough, the taunting hasn’t stopped. Just this morning, Brookes’ Trolls & Me Facebook campaign page was spammed with links to an obviously fake law firm, offering support to victims of online bullying.

This then, is just the beginning, but winning the first court order is a big step and could see Brookes’ campaign receive a lot more attention. Let’s just hope this comes from those committed to stopping cyber-bullying, and not those who want to use such a case as a smokescreen to push through unpopular laws which erode our privacy online.