Published Friday, 18 October 2013
The two flag protestors are suing Facebook for damages after alleged threats. (© Getty)
The men, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, have secured the removal of web pages referring to their activities.
But on Friday, a High Court judge refused to order Facebook to monitor its site for any future references to the pair.
"My concern is that with this monitoring, you are pushing the court at this stage to a level that no court has yet gone," Mr Justice Gillen said.
You are taking it to an area where Facebook may have to close down if they have to monitor all one billion of their users. I'm not sure how they could do that.
Mr Justice Gillen
The two men are seeking damages from Facebook over comments posted in connection with their involvement in protests about the restricting of the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
It is claimed that one of them was threatened with being shot and told in the street that he would be kicked to death.
His legal team claim this verbal warning can be linked to Facebook because reference was made to the name he used on the site.
Concerns surrounding the other man have been heightened by his ex-partner being related to a republican terrorist, the court heard.
In a case pitching rights to life, privacy, and freedom from torture and degrading treatment, against freedom of expression, a barrister for the plaintiffs argued that the risks were real.
He contended that Facebook has a responsibility to use any available technology to monitor for any reference to his clients' names in association with flag protests.
"There must be a whole range of electronic devices that work on an immediate basis that doesn't require human beings to sit at a screen monitoring posts as they appear," he added.
There are serious and significant threats. Both plaintiffs have left their homes and are in fear for their lives.
Plaintiffs' legal team
Facebook's legal team argued that the legal application was vague and amounted to trying to stop its one billion worldwide users from referring to the same names as the two men.
With provisions already in place for the removal of any offending content from the site, a barrister argued that the plaintiffs themselves would be in the best position to check for such material.
He also stressed that legal issues around social media are a "hot topic" in courts worldwide.
"There's a real concern with Facebook that, if an order of this kind is made, it may resonate in other jurisdictions," the barrister said.
""If only a tiny percentage of Facebook users sought similar orders, the burden on Facebook would increase exponentially."
Mr Justice Gillen declined to make the monitoring order on the basis that it would place disproportionate requirements on the company and require excessive supervision by the court.
He added: "I'm satisfied that the plaintiffs have more than adequate remedies in the notice and take-down provisions."
The judge also listed their full action against Facebook for a hearing in January.
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