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Sex offender wins case against Facebook vigilantism

Let the Facebook Whac-A-Mole™ begin

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A convicted sex offender has won a court order giving Facebook 72 hours to remove a page on its site which names people who have have been convicted of sex offenses against children.

The Northern Irish man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, took the action after his details appeared on the Facebook page "Keeping our kids safe from predators", bringing threats of violence against him. The man, who was convicted of multiple sex offences two decades ago, served a six-year sentence before being released.

"Society has dealt with the plaintiff in accordance with the rule of law," ruled Mr. Justice McCloskey, BBC reports. "He has been punished by incarceration and he is subject to substantial daily restrictions on his lifestyle."

Facebook's lawyers argued that taking down a page used by 4,000 people wasn't proportionate, but the judge said that the "pendulum of the rule of law swings in the plaintiff's favour." Although Facebook has agreed to take down the site, five other pages with a similar title have since sprung up.

"Makes me sick to think that pedos have rites dey have ni rites in our society dey scum that should have no rites," notes one poster, Robert Corbett from Galway in Ireland, who sums up the feelings (and diction) of many of the site's commenters.

While it's difficult to side with people accused of such heinous crimes, in this case the law looks to be right, in the opinion of this El Reg hack. On the most basic level, this kind of page goes against the notion that once someone has done their time for a crime they should get a second chance.

These pages are the hunting grounds of vigilantes, and as we've seen before in the UK, this sort of thing does more harm than good. A naming and shaming campaign started by then–News of the World editor (and now possible jailbird herself) Rebekah Brooks in 2000 led to five families being forced to flee their homes after being mistakenly identified as former sex offenders.

The worst case came from Dr. Yvette Cloete, a consultant paediatrician (UK spelling) based in Wales, who had to move from her home after someone vandalized her property and graffitied "paedo" on her front wall.

"It's hard to believe the ignorance of some people. I just can't see how they could confuse a doctor who cares for children with someone who abuses them," her brother told the Daily Telegraph.

The police aren't keen on vigilantism either. While recidivism rates for sex offenders are generally higher than normal, these can be significantly reduced with counseling. But offenders are more likely to drop out of treatment if they are forced out of their homes, and thus more likely to reoffend and blight other young lives. ®

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