The Frapes of Wrath: High Court fines £10,000 for Facebook Libel

by WardBlawg on July 29, 2010

To Frape or not to Frape? That is the new question. The verb “to frape” is a rather new one, defined here as

The conjunction of the words Facebook and rape.

When a person leaves their laptop/PC unattended whilst signed into Facebook and other people change various parts of their personal page to humiliating or undesirable material.

The Libel Damages

This verb has taken on a rather heightened role given the recent High Court decision in England where a person was order to pay £10,000 in libel damages for posting on social networking site Facebook that his former friend was a homosexual paedophile. Who was the successful plaintiff? A law student, who thought that his friends might actually believe this. His method of standing up for himself involved hauling his former friend to the courts instead of settling the matter extrajudicially. But, the court said, he was entirely within his rights to do so, even though the image had been taken down within 24 hours through notice and takedown, one of the most common forms of dispute resolution on the Internet.

The Libel

The defendant had posted a picture of child sex abuse on the plaintiff’s Facebook page along with the message “Ray, you like kids and you are gay so I bet you love this picture, ha ha”, according to The Sentinel newspaper in Staffordshire.

Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the allegation of paedophilia was serious and could have damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. Now, I don’t know whether Mr Justice Tugendhat has a profile on Facebook or has any idea about social networking sites, but he should be aware, or have been made aware by the defence, that this type of abuse goes on more than he might imagine, albeit not quite as acerbic, indecent and tasteless as in this case. To be clear, the author does not support this sort of bullying in the slightest.

But this is not even an instance of “fraping”, because it was the third party defendant himself who posted the message through his own computer.

Frape under the Computer Misuse Act 1990

“Fraping” people’s Facebook accounts is defined above as where someone logs into their friends’ or, perhaps, former friends’ computers to edit their profile with mischievous or malicious intent. Imagine if that had happened in this case: taking the example quoted by the Sentinel newspaper, imagine if Mr Barber had logged into Ray’s computer when Ray wasn’t at his desk and had written as Ray’s status “I like kids and I am gay so I bet I love this picture.”

Not only would excessive damages in that case be much more warranted, there may also be potential infringement of the unauthorised access to a computer crime under Section 1 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990. Read more on this crime here.


It is hoped that this case is appealed on grounds of disproportionate quantum of damages in respect of the libel element. In respect of the indecent image posting, the sentence is entirely justified and, indeed, criminal sanctions are entirely warranted, but the judge did not make this distinction clear enough.

The message is: be warned about your own facebook usage, whether for personal or for business purposes.

Mr Justice Tugendhat has well and truly flung the floodgates of litigation wide open: perhaps this Planet of the (Fr)Apes quote can be regurgitated for the purpose of this debate:-

Honorious: Tell us, why are all frapes created equal?
George Taylor: Some frapes, it seems, are more equal than others.

Gavin Ward, 29 July 2010

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