Friday, March 2, 2012

Girl 'harassed on Facebook' ; COURT: City internet user pleads not guilty to on-line pestering in UK's first case EXCLUSIVE

A BIRMINGHAM man will be the first in the UK to stand trial afterbeing accused of harassment on Facebook.

Michael Hurst has pleaded not guilty to harassing ex-girlfriendSophie Sladden via the popular social networking website.

Hurst, 33, of Spire Court, Manor Road, Edgbaston, is accused ofcontacting Ms Sladden via the webpage on January 21.

He appeared before Birmingham Magistrates Court and was grantedconditional bail after he pleaded not guilty to harassment viaFacebook, contrary to the Harassment Act 1997.

He will stand trial later this month.

Neither Hurst nor Ms Sladden now have a page on the website,which allows people to post pictures and personal details ofthemselves, accessible to self-approved lists of friends.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "We haveprosecuted harassment cases before where people have sent letters,made phone calls and even text messages in recent years, but to myknowledge this is the first case where a website like Facebook hasbeen involved.

"The man has pleaded not guilty and the trial is due to start inMarch."

Facebook says it reserves the right to shut down offensiveprofiles with hateful or harmful behaviour.

Its terms of use say members may not post material which could"intimidate or harass another".

The harassment case is the latest problem to hit the popularnetworking site, which has 34 million active users worldwide. Somecompanies in Birmingham have already banned employees from loggingon when they should be working.

Concerns have also been expressed that personal details on thesite could be used by online fraudsters, and some employers arebelieved to have checked out details of potential employees onFacebook.

In July 2007 a man at the University of Kent was "cyber-bullied"by fellow-students.

Graham Mallaghan, aged 36, who also works as a library assistantat the university, said the Facebook group had existed for weeksbefore he knew.

The site entry was called "for those who hate the little fatlibrary man" and had more than 350 members.

Some of them sent personal apologies to Mr Mallaghan when thegroup was shut down.

Both the University of Kent, and Facebook condemned the abuse.

SOCIAL NETWORKING FACTFILE

Facebook was started in 2004 by 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, astudent at Harvard University, USA.

Initially membership was restricted to students of Harvard, butit was expanded to other US universities before moving on to schoolsand workplaces across the world.

In October 2007, after Google purchased video-sharing siteYouTube, rumours circulated that Google had offered EUR2.3 billionto buy Facebook, but internal valuations are rumoured to be in theregion of EUR8 billion.

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