Terror on Facebook

2009-07-18 00:00

BEWARE of what you write on Facebook. It may come back to haunt you.

A police detective is investigating a case in which a Hilton family, with close ties to the local and national canoeing fraternity, have been defamed on Facebook.

The laptop of a top local and international canoeist, whose name is known to Weekend Witness, has been seized by police in connection with the case, which has apparently caused huge ructions in canoeing circles, as canoeists pick sides in the matter.

Weekend Witness has in its possession transcript copies of the Facebook profile site, which has since been disabled.

The profile, which attracted other top canoeists, carries defamatory comments about the family, including allegations that the parents were sexually abusing their daughter.

The family cannot be named to protect the girl’s identity, as she is under 18.

The Facebook site, named with wordplay on the family’s surname, carries distasteful images and refers to plans to damage a canoe belonging to the family.

Commenting on the matter, the father said the allegations that he had engaged in sexual activity with his own daughter, were incredibly hurtful. “It is worse than being branded a murderer; it’s the most dreadful thing imaginable.”

He said he was alerted to the content of the site by fellow canoeists who saw it on May 13, and described his shock as he and his wife saw the graphic depictions on the site. The illustrations include a diseased penis and a bottom with a wound on it.

Many other people looked at the site, but did not join it, said the father.

“She is extremely talented and hardworking,” said the mother of her daughter. “She loves paddling and has a burning desire to achieve.” But now the teen achiever has had to abandon her hopes in terms of competitive canoeing as she has had to withdraw from a major international competition, following the discovery of the site.

“It’s months of training gone. She is devastated.”

The girl has had to get used to training alone at Midmar after school, without a coach and team-mates. “Although she has been traumatised by this attack, she is tough,” said her mother.

The parents said they were also stunned at the “level of hatred” that culminated in the creation of the Fac­ebook site.

The father praised the work of police investigator Inspector Salz­wedel, who he said excelled in terms of the way he handled the investigation thus far.

“He went to a lot of trouble to get the preservation order for the Facebook site sorted out, via America.”

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said cases of crimen injuria and contravening the Films and Publications Act were being investigated. He confirmed the canoeist’s laptop was seized and would be sent for forensic examination. He said the investigation was being handled in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Graham Bird of Canoeing South Africa, said he had heard about the seizure of the laptop by the police, but refused to comment on the matter, other than to say the board would be looking at the issue. Asked if the canoeist was to be suspended from the sporting body, he said he could not comment on that. When asked if the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee was aware of the seizure of the laptop and allegations against the canoeist, Bird said he was unsure.

HILTON police station investigator Inspector Salzwedel said that when he began investigating the case, he had a lot to learn about cyber-crime. He said initially a preservation order had to be obtained on the Facebook profile to freeze the account and ensure that the contents were not deleted. This was obtained by the Cybercrime Unit in Pretoria.

“We worked closely with Interpol who assisted in preserving the profile and getting the preservation order placed on the site.”

The U.S. legal department then approached Facebook via Interpol to get access to whatever had been preserved. He said each profile created has a specific identity number, which could link back to who had done what, on the site.

“We can then get information on who created it.”

Salzwedel stressed that the investigation is at a sensitive stage. He said he is waiting for the information from Facebook as well as the results of a forensic examination of the laptop, which was being undertaken by the police technical support unit in Durban. “It was a team effort by the Hilton detectives,” said Salzwedel. — Witness Reporter.

AN Eldorado Park man, Duane Brady, appeared in court in January this year after he had allegedly defamed a friend of his wife, Danielle Cox, on Facebook.

Daniëlla du Plooy of Beeld newspaper quoted Faan Coetzee, a Johannesburg lawyer, who said the same rules apply in cyberspace as to an ordinary conversation or a newspaper. “If you write something on Facebook or on a website, it’s as good as shouting it from a stage.”

Defamation suits linked to Facebook seem to be numerous internationally. An example of one, according to www.infopackets.com, is an American teen suing Facebook and four former classmates of University of Albany for defamation. Denise Finkel claims that comments intended to embarrass and humiliate her were posted on the popular social networking site.

According to the site, Finkel says her reputation and character were greatly injured by comments posted in a private group implying she has Aids, uses drugs, and engages in deviant behaviour, like bestiality.

“Finkel was a victim of a growing Internet trend called cyber-bullying. She is suing both Facebook for $3 million in damages, and the classmates’ parents.”

Finkel is never named in the group, but is allegedly identified by comments and photos.

In a case where cyber-bullying had tragic consequences, Megan Meier (13), an American committed suicide after cyber-bullying through MySpace. Lori Drew, the mother of a former friend of Meier, later admitted creating the account with her daughter and an employee and was found guilty on three charges.

Witnesses at Drew’s trial said she wanted to get information about her and later humiliate her, in retribution for her allegedly spreading gossip about Drew’s daughter.

Wikipedia on cyber-bullying — “when the Internet, cellphones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”

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