[imagesource: AP/Joerg Koch]
The internet is dark and full of terrors, especially for women.
Across the globe, women are routinely subject to online rape threats, harassment, cyberstalking, blackmail, and more.
A study that examined over 1 000 cases worldwide, found that women aged 18 to 30 were most likely to experience online violence, and that less than half the cases reported to the relevant authorities have been investigated.
This is partly because of the difficulty posed by tracing online activity, alongside a deficit in the technology available to law enforcement or the skills necessary to utilise it.
Then there are the parent companies of social media sites, who despite data farming and near-constant privacy violations when it comes to advertising, are often reluctant to hand perpetrators’ information over to the police.
This has been the case for a Gauteng teen who has fallen victim to repeated threats of gang rape and murder online, all from anonymous Instagram accounts.
The Daily Maverick reports:
It has already cost the family of a Gauteng teen anonymously threatened with gang rape and murder a small fortune in legal fees and months of trauma navigating an inter-continental administrative quagmire to compel Facebook Inc to disclose the identity of the holder/s of several Instagram accounts used to make the threats.
At the heart of the matter is the responsibility and duty of Facebook Inc, registered in the US, to protect the rights of children who are abused and threatened by anonymous predators who use a platform owned by the global social media giant.
Facebook, as you might know, owns Instagram, and it is, therefore, their responsibility to handle issues relating to the platform.
Philanthropist and businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum has stepped up to assist the family with legal costs.
The South African teenager who is taking on Facebook Inc received the threats in messages to her Instagram account in May 2020. She has since been met with a wall of legal obstacles and hurdles in an attempt to obtain information about the perpetrator to protect herself.
“The threats were so graphic and distressing that the applicant could barely eat or sleep for five days after receiving them,” the teenager’s ace legal team, Kate Hofmeyr, Ben Winks and Carina du Toit, instructed by Emma Sadleir and Andrew Miller & Associates, stated in Heads of Argument lodged with the Gauteng High Court in a matter set down to be heard on 28 July before Judge Brian Spilg.
After she received the threats, her family turned to a social media expert, Emma Sadleir, to help them get to the bottom of who was sending them. Sadleir contacted Facebook, Facebook’s legal team, and the SAPS, while the teen lodged a criminal complaint.
CapeTalk spoke to Sadleir, who has joined the legal team taking Facebook to court.
“As far as I’m concerned, the privacy rights of a criminal are far less important than the right of a child. Facebook’s policy is that they will give over the information if they are served a valid legal process.”
They said that they required a subpoena… which forces us to go the criminal route… so we’re obtaining a court order in the civil courts which will be served on them.
You can listen to John Maytham’s full interview with Sadleir, here:
The teen suspects that it might be someone who goes to her school, so the matter became especially urgent when, during the pandemic, schools were set to reopen. All of this, to no avail.
As Daily Maverick notes, “she fears that the perpetrator might be there waiting to harm her in the ways described in excruciating detail in the messages”.
The court application is for an order directing Facebook Inc to provide the target of the threat with the information she needs to identify “the person who anonymously sent rape and death threats to her using Facebook Inc’s social media application, Instagram”.
The relief that the teen is seeking has nothing to do with financial settlements or gain. She simply wants to know who is harassing her.
“The answer lies in the fact that Facebook Inc has constructed an impenetrable fortress around it which makes it almost impossible for users of Facebook or Instagram to obtain basic subscriber information that would identify the perpetrators of crimes committed on these platforms,” the lawyers set out.
Anyone who signs up for Facebook Inc-owned social media platforms, including Instagram, and who wants to obtain basic subscriber information of a person suspected of committing a crime, would face impossible hurdles, the legal team said.
Online harassment or violence is a legitimate and harmful manifestation of gender-based violence, and one that needs to be addressed.
Let’s hope this court case yields results that pave the way for other women and teens who feel unsafe or victimised online.
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