Facebook’s very poor example

I have lost count of the number of times child safety advocates from around the world have got in touch with me because, in relation to something they think is important and urgent locally, they cannot get any response from a big, usually American, company.

Typically these colleagues were from smaller countries – for which read smaller markets – where the company concerned did not have an office or staff. Happily I was often, not always, able to help out and make a connection because I knew senior people in the business either in Europe or on the other side of the pond.

It goes without saying it shouldn’t be like that. But here is a case that takes the proverbial biscuit.  This news report was sent to me by a lawyer friend from South Africa.

Threat of gang rape

Two months ago on Instagram a teenager was threatened with gang rape. Anonymously. Obviously. Sounds like the threats were graphic and detailed. There was reason to believe one of the people behind them attended the same school as the targeted victim. The threat was close to home. It felt immediate.

The police were hopeless.  It would likely take six months to get them to issue a subpoena to discover who the culprits were. Not good enough but equally not an alibi for inaction on the part of Facebook.  With the backing of a rich local philanthropist the victim’s parents instructed lawyers. Here’s where it gets really bizarre.

Facebook’s lawyers cannot accept service of a writ

Nobody disputed the teenager was entitled to receive the information she requested. However, Facebook’s lawyers in South Africa not only said they could not accept service of a writ on behalf of the company, neither would they provide an email address or other information to help the teenager progress her case in a different or more expeditious way.

In the end, thanks again philanthropist, the South African lawyer instructed a Californian lawyer to drive to Facebook’s HQ and on 6th July the necessary papers were physically served under US Federal or Californian processes.

Here is what the South African based lawyer said

“….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”.