CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Tech Industry

Facebook loses bid to dismiss teen's revenge porn lawsuit

The social media giant must go to trial for allegedly failing to delete the 14-year-old's naked photos.

gettyimages-530594132.jpg

Facebook will have to go to trial in Belfast after it allegedly failed to delete photos of a naked teen on a "shame page."

Jaap Arriens, NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook will have to head to the courtroom after losing a legal effort to reject a revenge porn case brought against it.

The 14-year-old victim, who isn't being identified because of her age, sued Facebook in a Belfast, Northern Ireland, court after her former partner spammed a naked photo of the teen on a "shame page" on the social network from November 2014 to January 2016.

The incident is the latest example of the struggle that social networks face in handling online harassment. Take too light an approach, and you end up with extreme incidents of cyberbullying, driving users off your website like Twitter trolls did to "Ghostbusters" star Leslie Jones. Take a heavier approach, and you end up like Facebook, which lost in the court of public opinion after it deleted the iconic "Napalm Girl" image, mistaking the historically significant Vietnam War photo for child pornography.

The Belfast decision comes just four days after the deletion controversy. The victim believes Facebook didn't do enough to prevent the photo from sitting on the social network for more than a year.

The victim's lawyers argued Facebook had the tools to block images from being posted through an image recognition program. In 2011, Facebook implemented "PhotoDNA," a tool created by Microsoft that allowed the website to automatically detect exploitative images like child pornography and immediately delete them, or in some cases, prevent those pictures from ever being uploaded.

Facebook said there is no place on its network for such content and removes it when it's reported.

"We care deeply about protecting people's safety and work with charities, academics and experts across the UK and Ireland to develop grass-roots education programs and help create an environment where everyone feels safe," the company said in a statement.

Facebook's legal team argued the company did delete the teen's naked photos whenever the image was reported, according to the Belfast Telegraph -- even though it already employs an automated system with PhotoDNA.

The social network's lawyers were relying on a European directive that they claimed protected websites from having to monitor massive amounts of content for what is posted on a single page. The girl's lawyers argued that Facebook should have just taken down the "shame page" where the teen's photos were posted.

Facebook's argument failed in court, with Belfast Justice Ben Stephens refusing to dismiss the case. The lawsuit will go to trial at a future date.

Along with Facebook, the girl is also suing the man suspected of posting her naked photos on the shame page.

In the case of the "Napalm Girl" photo, which shows a naked 12-year-old fleeing in terror from aerial bombardment, the social network on Friday drew criticism for deleting too vigorously. The image was reuploaded in protest of Facebook's censorship policies and promptly deleted every time, drawing more criticism until the website reversed its stance on the picture.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg sent a formal apology to Norway's prime minister, Erna Solberg, after Facebook deleted the image from her profile page.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. PT with Facebook comment.