Is it illegal to post private messages on Facebook
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What to do when someone posts private conversations on Facebook
Too often, unlawful recordings of private conversations find their way to Facebook and to other social media. It is likely that the publication of private conversations would surely constitute as a form of harassment and a misuse of private information.
Lucy was a first-year university student who lived in shared accommodation near her university campus. This was Lucy’s first time living away from home on her own and naturally she expected this would be an exciting experience she was about to embark upon. Unfortunately, her expectations and experience of a fun filled ‘university experience’ were quickly torn apart as one of her house mates began a campaign of harassment against her. During some arguments, her housemate, Ben, made secret recordings which he then placed on the internet.
He uploaded hurtful content to Facebook with manipulated audio conversations which made Lucy look very bad, where information was planted out of context. He particularly used Facebook to post adverse comments about her and to share his unlawful and private recordings of their arguments. Ben’s conduct contravened Lucy’s personal values and space as well as her privilege to a safe home and consequently, it became increasingly difficult for Lucy to study or even feel somewhat comfortable in the house or online on Facebook.
After receiving advice from a friend, Lucy reported the harassment to the police. The police unfortunately failed to take Lucy’s complaint seriously, dismissing her plea for help and advised it was a civil matter that she had to resolve herself with her harasser or through the letting agency. Alternatively, she was advised, that she should report this matter to Facebook, but under any circumstances, there was nothing the police could do to help. The harassment continued despite Lucy following the police advice. Each time, Lucy was faced with disappointment of the dissmisal by people to help her. Lucy felt frustrated by the lack of action being taken and hopeless.
In the months that followed, Ben eventually left the shared housing and Lucy had finally rid herself of him. However, much to Lucy’s dismay, the recording of the arguments and the derogatory comments remained on the internet. These continued to cause her a great deal of distress. Eventually, Lucy searched for help online and arranged for a consultation with one of our lawyers.
Harassment is an unwanted behavior which victims tend to find to be offensive in nature or which makes the victim feel intimidated or humiliated. Often, this would result in the victim feeling alarmed or distressed. Ben’s actions evidently amounted to harassment and were in breach of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. As harassment is both a civil and a criminal wrongdoing, Lucy could either leave the police to handle the matter as a criminal matter or to have it resolved with lawyers, as a civil matter.
The criminal procedure would entail a thorough investigation to gather evidence which would need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ben was guilty. Unfortunately, this was not done by the police. Posting on the internet recordings of conversations, which the victim considered private at the time, may constitute harassment of the victim but might also result in civil legal action against the harasser for misuse of private information. In most situations, students who share accommodation, have a reasonable expectation of privacy, in relation to conversations, as unpleasant as they might be, that they may have with their housemates.
Yes. Under English law, it is unlawful to post private messages on Facebook. Under English law, every individual is entitled to a right to private life. In relation to private messages posted on Facebook, the individuals who speak in the conversation will often have a reasonable expectation to privacy. Conversations that took place in a house, a restaurant and even in a public place, might still be considered private, if it is apparent that the participants in the conversation considered it private at the time of having those conversations.
The fact that someone had made a secret recording of a conversation and then went on to publish it on Facebook without the consent of all the participants, would often indicate that there was an expectation by the participants in the conversation for their chat to remain private. In some cases, publication on Facebook of private messages or private conversations, would also be considered a crime, if it can be shown that the posting of the messages of the conversation was done with the intention to cause a party to the conversation harassment.
Taking someone to court for harassment or the misuse of private information is likely to involve a lengthy and often, a considerable expense. In cases where the police is unwilling to assist the victim, the victim is often left with little choice but to instruct a solicitor to help her resolve the issue. In Lucy’s case our lawyers advised her to prepare and send a cease and desist letter to Ben and at the same time to contact Facebook to have the private and harassing content removed from its platform.
We served a cease and desist letter on Ben, explaining why his actions amounted to harassment contrary to the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 and that his disclosure of the unlawful recording of their arguments amounted to a misuse of Lucy's private information. As a result, she was entitled to obtain an injunction and damages from her.
The letter explained the severe impact of his actions had on his victim and required him to to refrain from harassing her, to compensate her for the distress he had caused her, to provide a written apology and to agree to never contact her again. We explained in the letter that should Ben refuse to adhere to all the requests, we would not hesitate to pursue further legal action against him for harassment and for the misuse of private information.
Regarding the harassing content on Facebook, which needed to be removed as a matter of urgency, our lawyers were able to directly contact Facebook and demanded the unlawful recording and the harassing posts to be removed immediately for breaching Facebook’s community guidelines and for being unlawful. As our lawyers have exceptional expertise in this area, we were able to swiftly deal with this matter using the correct procedure and tools to have the content removed within a day.
Upon serving Ben with the harassment cease and desist letter, we were able to secure an agreement to which Ben signed ensuring he no longer engaged in any communication with Lucy including uploading private information about her to the internet, immediately stop his campaign of harassment towards her and pay compensation for the harm and upset caused.
Although Lucy’s experience at university remained somewhat tainted, she was able to take satisfaction in the fact that justice was served, and Ben faced repercussions for his unlawful conduct both online and in person.