Facebook meets the Weekly World News

Welcome to Shane Schick’s Computerworld. I am Shane’s assistant editor, Greg Meckbach. Last week, I admitted to having lied about my age on Facebook. The consequences have not been severe, as I still have my job and can still log into Facebook.

But some lies published on Facebook have more serious consequences. This week, Associated Press published a story by Meera Selva about Matthew Firsht, a British man who was awarded 22,000 pounds (more than $45,000) worth of damages after a former colleague, Grant Raphael, allegedly published false allegations on Facebook about Firsht.

Firsht sued Raphael for libel and breach of privacy after someone used Raphael’s computer to publish both personal information, and false allegations, about Firsht.

Raphael had claimed the posts were actually published by miscreants who crashed a party at his place. The court did not believe him.

Regardless of who published the information (and misinformation) about Firsht, this would not be the first time someone has used a social networking site for malicious purposes

AP quoted Firsht’s lawyer as saying the decision “is likely to send shockwaves amongst the social networking community” because there are “similar instances” of libel and breach of privacy that “go unchecked everyday.”

As of Friday, the shockwaves had not hit our offices. If you were skeptical in high school about the claims made by anonymous graffiti scribes on washroom walls, you should probably remain skeptical about personal information (especially juicy gossip) made through social networking forums.

Facebook, of course, is much more sophisticated than a washroom wall. It has 284 groups on ERP alone, while a search for groups about network security yielded more than 500 results. Though it doesn’t depend heavily on any new technologies (unless you consider the Internet, the database and the graphical user interface as new technologies), it’s an innovative method of using existing technologies to build a powerful networking and communication tool. The Firsht case should not surprise anyone. It’s just another indication that the information disseminated through communications media, no matter how sophisticated, is only as reliable as the person from whom the information originates.

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