The High Court has ruled in Muwema v Facebook Ireland  IEHC 519 that the internet service provider was not obliged to remove the defamatory posts of an anonymous third party. The Court opted instead to exercise its discretion and made a Norwich Pharmacal order, forcing Facebook to reveal the identity of the user in question. Norwich Pharmacal orders are generally granted against a third party, forcing them to disclose information that assists the applicant in identifying and bringing legal proceedings against the individual who is believed to have wronged them.
Mr Muwema, a Ugandan lawyer (the "applicant"), initiated proceedings when a number of "false scurrilous and defamatory" comments were posted by a Facebook Ireland Limited ("Facebook") user operating under the pseudonym "TVO".
The case was brought in Ireland against Facebook as it is the contracting entity for users outside the US and Canada.
The applicant sought a number of interlocutory orders, namely:
- An order prohibiting the publication or further publication of the posts
- An order that Facebook or anyone on notice of the order cease and desist in further publishing the articles in question
- An order directing Facebook to disclose the identity of TVO (a Norwich Pharmacal Order)
The reliefs sought at (1) above were refused by Justice Binchy who emphasised that the making of such an order would "serve no useful purpose" given that the information was now well within the public domain.
Justice Binchy also found that the prohibitory order sought at (2) above could only be available when the defendant had no defence which is reasonably likely to succeed and, in this instance, the defendant may well have been successful in availing of the "innocent publication" defence.
The applicant was successful, however, in obtaining a Norwich Pharmacal order compelling Facebook to disclose the identity of "TVO", the activist responsible for the defamatory publications.
The order, which is one of only a handful made in this jurisdiction, will now enable the applicant to pursue an action in defamation in Uganda against the user in question.