Teresa Cullen, Partner, Fladgate LLP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Anna Wakeling, Associate, Fladgate LLP (email@example.com)
We have written previously on the dangers of social media (see ‘Revenge is a dish best served… on social media?’). For one UK ex-wife the dangers of commenting on social media have come home to roost. Laleh Shahravesh faced jail in Dubai following comments she posted in response to her ex-husband’s photo of his new wife on Facebook “I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Dam you. You left me for this horse” and a second post that read “You married a horse you idiot“.
Following a complaint by the new wife to the Dubai Police, Ms Shahravesh was arrested at Dubai airport when travelling to her ex-husband’s funeral with her teenage daughter. Her case was that these were momentary outbursts, unfortunately for her captured on Facebook for all to see. Her mitigation that she had spent 18 years married to her ex-husband and that he had remarried with undue haste initially fell on deaf ears with the Dubai authorities. The Facebook posts were over three years old. Under Dubai law she faced a prison sentence of up to two years in prison and/or a £50,000 fine.
In the UK we also have laws preventing abuse through social media; angry ex’s render themselves liable either to legal action by the police for the crime of “malicious communication” which can carry a penalty of 6 months imprisonment, or harassment if there has been a course of conduct, or to be subject to a Non-Molestation Application in the Family Court where the parties are connected. Similarly, social media shaming and abuse may well amount to defamation, a civil claim, not reliant upon any degree of proximity in relationship between the parties. To make a statement that is untrue and causes or is likely to cause serious harm to a person’s reputation renders the angry ex liable to a claim in damages. We also have a criminal offence of disclosing private sexual images commonly known as “revenge porn” introduced in 2015.
Spiteful outbursts on social media do not seem to be limited to family situations. Last year one particularly spiteful spurned work colleague was, according to the press, jailed for 16 weeks and ordered to pay £5,000 compensation to his victim. When the young female in turn spurned his advances he maintained a social media campaign against her including posting pictures of her face (from her social media accounts) and manipulating and photo shopping them alongside pornographic images. The Judge in sentencing him commented “This is a 21st century sort of revenge in which you invoked the powers of the internet“.
We have had first-hand knowledge of the police intervening in what seems to be a tit for tat spat between exes played out on social media. It’s not just in Dubai that police authorities will get involved. Fortunately for Ms Shahravesh she has been able to settle her case in Dubai with payment of a monetary fine of AED3,000 (£625) and return to the UK where she was reunited with her daughter, Others, however, may not be so lucky. Radha Stirling, the chief executive of the campaigners Detained in Dubai, said the incident was a “grave warning” to social media users and that “without the spotlight from the international press and raising awareness to the UAE authorities this would have gone on for at least six months.”
By all means let off steam, but in a safe environment, and not one that leaves a permanent record for all, including the police authorities and the courts, to see.