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Man fined for insulting ex-girlfriend on Facebook

A court decides to fine a man for offensive messages sent to his former lover on Facebook. What kind of precedent might this set?

Sometimes, we say things we just don't mean. Or, more accurately, that we really do mean, but we wish we hadn't said in public.

Still, with fewer people seeming to care about privacy anymore, the untoward consequences of our free expressions can be costly. It seems, for example, that saying something nasty to your ex-girlfriend on Facebook might cost you 165 British pounds (around $250).

According to the Telegraph, Darren Mattox, a 29-year-old from Wrexham, Wales, confessed in court to writing something "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character" to a Facebook friend who happened to be his ex-girlfriend.

Will this case lead to others? CC Global X/Flickr

The court didn't reveal the precise wording of his dismissive missive, but the prosecuting attorney reportedly declared: "The message was brief but clearly of a harassing nature. He claims he just wants to see his baby."

While few can know the full circumstances of this particular case--Mattox was reportedly upset that he couldn't get to see the son he had with his ex-girlfriend--one wonders just what precedent this case might set. Mattox's lawyer told the Telegraph: "He basically made a posting calling her an offensive name."

When things are said during arguments, people might hold a grudge, or they might never speak to the speaker again, but rarely does this sort of thing end up in court.

Social-networking sites, however, can offer clear, lasting evidence of rude words tossed in love, excitement, pain, and even anger. When you say something to someone, even if it's in front of others, it's hard for them to hold you at your word. When you write it on a social network, it's incontrovertible evidence.

It's interesting that for all the nasty words that seem to get tossed around on Facebook daily, this case is the one that ends up in court. I wonder if it will encourage more people to turn to the courtroom to assuage their hurt feelings.

Will people attempt to sue because someone called them a liar on Facebook? Will they attempt to take Facebook group creators--pick any Facebook group that begins with "I hate" and is followed by someone's name--through a legal process that will turn out to be expensive no matter who wins?

We live in interestingly public times.