Facebook is investigating possible legal action against the Daily Mail, a U.K. newspaper, for saying that a so-called pedophile gang has been using the social network to solicit minors.
Alas, that bit of news comes from a rival media outlet, the Guardian, which says that Facebook complained to the Daily Mail about a headline on Friday reading “How many more victims of Facebook sex gang?”
The Mail changed the wording of the online headline “pending a further investigation,” and Facebook has asked for written correction to run in print, arguing that there’s no evidence to support the claim that child abusers sought out victims via the social network. The actual story involves an investigation of 20 or more child abuse victims in Torbay, U.K., and a warning about the case given to parents of 16,000 pupils.
Facebook is reportedly consulting with attorneys at the European-based law firm of Osborne Clarke to decide whether to sue the Mail or file a complaint with the U.K.’s Press Complaints Commission. A spokesperson for the social network told the Guardian:
While the inaccurate headline was quickly changed online, the damage of being wrongly tied to this story on the front page is worthy of an apology – to both Daily Mail readers and Facebook – of equal prominence.
Apparently, the original story no longer appears online, replaced with a significantly rewritten version that tones down the wording to say sites “including Facebook.” Additionally, the Guardian reports that the social network has previously “locked horns” with the Mail about getting mentioned in pedophelia coverage, and scored a written apology for an inaccurate reference to the site in a story about a man posing as a 14-year-old girl online.
Facebook’s desire to clear its name from anything having to do with pedophilia is understandable. Alas, pedophiles have been using aliases on the Internet long before there was any social networking. Facebook’s popularity unfortunately makes it all too convenient to cite in any kind of reportage, not just the subject of minors being taken advantage of.
That said, I don’t know whether U.K. law has the same burden of proof for proving a charge of libel that the U.S. does, but if there’s any similarity between the two, that will make it challenging for Facebook to take any legal action beyond complaining to the Press Complaints Commission.
Over on this side of the pond, the most challenging aspect to a potential libel lawsuit is the need to prove malicious intent on the part of the journalist; that difficulty keeps such suits to a minimum and may explain why Facebook hasn’t made more legal threats against news organizations that have gotten their facts wrong.
What do you think about Facebook’s handling of the Daily Mail coverage?