Victim of Facebook fake wins libel lawsuit

A businessman won damages today against an old friend who put libelous and unauthorised information about him on the social networking Web site Facebook.

Mathew Firsht won £22,000 ($NZ60,000) in damages against his school friend Grant Raphael after Raphael set up Web pages on Facebook that looked as if they had been set up by Firsht. The pages incorrectly described Firsht's sexuality and political views and alleged that Firsht owed large sums of money. Other pages listed accurate details about his birthday and his activities.

The information stayed on the site for 16 days until Firsht's brother spotted it. Firsht alerted Facebook staff who deleted the pages and told his lawyers they had been posted on the site from a computer at Raphael's home.

Firsht sued Raphael for libel and misuse of personal information Raphael claimed the fake pages had been created on his computer by people who had gatecrashed a party at his apartment in June 2007 but Judge Richard Parkes, who awarded the damages, said his defence was "utterly far-fetched."

Firsht told the judge he fell out with Raphael, a freelance cameraman, in 2000 over a business dispute. He said that he believed Raphael created the fake Facebook pages to cause him anxiety and embarrassment and damage his company, which provides audience members for radio and television shows.

Parkes awarded Firsht £15,000 for libel and £2000 for breach of privacy. He received another £5000 for libel against his company, Applause Store Productions Ashley Hurst, a lawyer at the Olswang law firm that acted for Firsht, said: "This decision is likely to send shockwaves amongst the social networking community.

There are many similar instances of libel and breach of privacy which go unchecked everyday. People need to realize that libel and privacy laws in the UK apply just as much to online media as they do to newspapers."

E-mail and telephone messages left at Facebook's California headquarters were not immediately returned.