A convicted child rapist in Northern Ireland is suing both Facebook and a Facebook page administrator, claiming that the admin posted his exact address to a paedophile-monitoring page.
The administrator of the page, “Keeping our kids safe from predators II”, is Joe McCloskey.
That site seems to have been abandoned, but a similarly named site, “Keeping our kids safe from predators 2“, as of Friday seemed to be picking up where the other page left off.
McCloskey admitted in High Court to “naming and shaming” 400 sex offenders on the Facebook page.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, as of Thursday the High Court was seeking un-redacted versions of evidence to get to the bottom of what, exactly, the Facebook vigilante posted.
The plaintiff can’t be identified.
He’s claiming misuse of private information, harassment and breaches of the data protection act.
He filed charges after his photograph and details appeared last year on the Facebook page, alleging that among the wrathful comments posted to the page were calls for violence against him and inquiries about his address.
The court heard that one commenter called for the man to be hung, while others wanted to see him shot.
The man told the court he was then threatened with being thrown off a pier during a fishing trip, hounded out of a cinema, and had to use a supermarket trolley to fight off another tormentor.
Beyond the 400 sex offenders McCloskey says he’s named and shamed on the site, he told the court that he’s also helped to secure seven convictions.
But no, he said, he’s not responsible for instigating mob violence, pointing out that the page includes a disclaimer that opposes violence or intimidation.
McCloskey also claimed that he would remove sex offenders’ exact addresses if any user posted such details.
A Google search disproves that assertion, the plaintiff’s lawyers said.
Their evidence included postings on a website for sex offenders that were attributed to McCloskey.
In one of those postings, which were redacted, he comments on a rapist “living in flats near…”.
The judge said that it was possible to infer from the blanked-out comment that the defendant does, in fact, provide addresses.
One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Peter Girvan, also pointed to references to hammers in the comments, contrary to McCloskey’s insistence that he never incited violence.
As of Thursday, the hearing was continued, as McCloskey’s attorney confirmed that he’ll seek un-redacted versions of the evidence.
There’s a lot going on with this case.
It’s about whether convicted child abusers should be publicly outed. It’s about keeping communities safe from those known to be dangerous to children.
And it is most certainly about the practice of online vigilantism.
It brings to mind Anonymous, its splinter groups, and the hacktivist fondness for posting addresses and other personal details of people they’ve deemed responsible for wrongs, such as George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin…
…or perhaps those only tangentially related to wrongs.
To me, this case is a parallel to what Mrs. Wisniewski eloquently described on Naked Security with regards to the Trayvon Martin case, which involved the spread of killer George Zimmerman’s purported address across social media:
These are deep-rooted societal problems that require ongoing conversations about how things got that way in the first place and what sustained efforts we can make to change them - indeed, how to hack human systems - but the very nature of Anonymous makes dialogue impossible.
Swap “Anonymous” for “Facebook vigilantes” and the heart of the matter becomes the danger of mob justice.
In the case of Zimmerman, the purported address turned out to be for a married Florida couple, both in their 70s, who had no connection whatsoever to the man who killed Trayvon Martin.
In spite of that lack of connection, the couple were forced to live in fear, all due to erroneous reports about their connection to the shooter.
All that the would-be vigilante got wrong in the case of George Zimmerman was a middle initial.
That’s not all he got wrong, of course – he got the legal system wrong. He got it wrong when he presumed that justice would result from targeting somebody outside of a courtroom.
Likewise, with regards to the case being heard this week in Ireland, I submit that there are better ways to protect children than a Facebook page that incites vigilantism.
There are sites such as this one that provide advice on how to protect children from predators in the offline world.
Here at Naked Security, we’ve also published tips on how to help keep children safe online, such as:
- 10 tips to keep your kids and teens safe online
- Security begins at home – how to do a “back to basics” security overhaul on your family network
- Do these 3 essential security tasks for your family today
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this case in the comments section below.