September 10, 2009
Posted by John P
The pair have engaged lawyers to threaten the US internet company with action over the use of images and names alongside material they consider to be defamatory and racist. Stephen Taylor Heath, head of sports and media at Lupton Fawcett, said that a cursory search of Facebook quickly led to "bogus" pages that used the images and names of the pair to link to material that would be "highly defamatory" if published in a newspaper or magazine.
Warren, who has fought several high-profile legal battles, is understood to be determined to force Facebook to change its policy and take responsibility for the more unsavoury opinions of its registered users. Taylor Heath has called on other sports stars and celebrities to come forward. There is a legal grey area about the extent to which the operator of a website, or the provider of community tools, can be held liable for comments posted.
"The problem is when you search for a celebrity on the site you also come across pages using the celebrity's name and image that have no official link but in some instances are full of defamatory and illegal content," Taylor Heath said.
"At the moment the owners of Facebook do not seem to be taking this problem seriously. We have written to them outlining our concerns but all we received was a standard acknowledgement. We are still awaiting a response from their legal department."
The row goes to the heart of a debate about the extent to which internet service providers, search engines, message boards and social networking sites should be responsible for material posted by users. Warren and Khan want Facebook to remove defamatory and racist material, as well as responding more promptly when it is flagged up.
Under its terms and conditions, Facebook promises to remove posts that are "abusive, vulgar, hateful or racially and ethnically objectionable". However, the sheer volume of material posted is difficult to moderate and Facebook relies on users to notify it of serious breaches.
Following similar complaints, the Google-owned video sharing website YouTube promises to act promptly when it receives complaints about copyrighted material or videos that are offensive or glamorise violence. But it has resisted policing the site itself.
Taylor Heath stressed that his clients did not have a problem with fan sites or fair comment around the sport, but want to clamp down on comments that were seriously racist or defamatory.