Revenge of the social media savvy ex

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  • It is lamentable that we have recently been forced to legislate against former sexual partners posting intimate images of one another to social media, although the law cannot remain static and must necessarily be a reflection of modern life and all of its intricate complexities.

    Such crimes of passion on the part of jettisoned lovers are of course nothing new, as the formidable Duchess of Argyll demonstrated back in the sixties when she used the courts to prevent her ex-husband from betraying marital confidences that presumably harked back to happier times.

    She was no doubt still smarting from the Duke’s disclosure of compromising photographs of her with an unidentified paramour (while she was clad in nothing but her trademark pearl necklace) in support of his petition to divorce her.  

    The internet and the corresponding advent of the ubiquitous ability for anyone to publish anything, anywhere has changed things considerably, however, and that includes passionate acts of revenge on the part of disgruntled ex-lovers.

    In 2015 England and Wales introduced legislation specifically outlawing the disclosure of “private sexual photographs and films with the intent to cause distress” and set a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for those found guilty. Northern Ireland followed suit soon afterwards.

    Recent headlines concerning Facebook’s landmark settlement over photographs of a young teenager being posted online lead us to question whether the new legislation is a sufficient sanction in order to uphold respect for what is essentially an established right to privacy.

    Presumably, the answer to that is ‘no’ if it take two years to persuade Facebook to settle a claim for misuse of private information and breach of data protection even with a police investigation going on in the background.

    As with all rights codified in the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy is not sacrosanct and a balancing act with the right to freedom of expression on the other side of the scale necessarily needs to be performed in determining whether an abuse has taken place. Not so with revenge porn, however, as no-one is ever likely to argue that there is any public interest in naked photos of someone’s ex being posted online.       

    Perhaps the wider question is one of accountability. The reality of the internet is no longer virtual but actual. These kinds of abuses cause significant and often lasting damage to victims and cases of suicide linked to the depression caused by such devastating intrusions have been widely reported.

    Technology giants such as Facebook have (albeit inadvertently) given revenge porn a concrete platform from which to flourish and it is about time that they took meaningful steps to stamp out this grossly invasive practice at source. 

    Kathy Mathews is an associate solicitor at Forde Campbell LLC. Kathy specialises in defamation, privacy, harassment (including online harassment), reputation management, art law and alternative dispute resolution/mediation.


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