Secondary school withdraws legal action over Instagram account

Salesian College decides not to pursue case over ‘vulgar’ remarks about staff

The Salesian College in Limerick: the school’s board of management decided not to further pursue proceedings it took to find the identity from Facebook, owners of Instagram.

The Salesian College in Limerick: the school’s board of management decided not to further pursue proceedings it took to find the identity from Facebook, owners of Instagram.

 

A secondary school has withdrawn its legal action over efforts to find out who was behind a closed-down Instagram account which made “coarse and vulgar” remarks about certain staff and students.

On Monday, the High Court was told by David Geoghegan BL, for the Salesian College in Limerick, the board of management had decided not to further pursue proceedings it took to find the identity from Facebook, owners of Instagram.

The board’s decision followed last month’s ruling by Mr Justice Garret Simons to refer a number of questions related to the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In view of this, Mr Geoghegan said, and as Facebook had agreed to pay its own legal costs, the school was applying for a strike out of the case.

Rossa Fanning SC, for Facebook Ireland, said the reference to the ECJ now became moot notwithstanding the care and attention the High Court went to in dealing with the case.

The board of the school had taken the view for its own reasons not to further prosecute the case and the effect of that is that last month’s decision to refer to the ECJ withered away, he said.

Ronan Lupton BL told Mr Justice Simons he represented the Article 19 Group, an international organisation concerned with freedom of expression issues and named after Article 19 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights (freedom of expression).

Counsel said the High Court decision last month had piqued international attention and the group was going to apply to be joined as an amicus curiae (assistant to the court) to address the questions the judge intended to refer to the ECJ.

Mr Lupton, who was instructed by FP Logue Solicitors, the Public Interest Law Alliance and the Free Legal Advice Centre, said his clients had “looked forward” to making the application but, in view of the school’s decision, that would not now be happening.

Mr Justice Simons said in view of the situation and where Facebook had agreed to pay its own costs, he made an order striking out the proceedings which meant they were now at an end.

Posts

The Salesian College brought proceedings last December arising out of posts on an Instagram account which was operational for 10 days in October of 2019 before it was closed down.

There was a series of about 52 posts, consisting of photographs or other images with what the judge said were “supposedly humorous text” superimposed.

The photos were not of anyone in or associated with the school and were sourced from the internet but the text with them linked individuals and events at the school, much of it “coarse and vulgar”, he said.

In some instances, the content ridiculed members of the school’s staff by reference to their personal appearance, weight and sexuality, the judge said.

The school took steps to find out who was behind it and ultimately gained access after obtaining the password from one of the students. However, it was still not possible to find out who was behind it and the school then decided to seek a High Court order requiring Facebook to reveal the identity.

Facebook did not oppose the application but said its standard position was only to do so on foot of a court order.

The case was adjourned to Monday for the judge to hear submissions from the parties on the questions he wished to refer to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. The board of management’s decision in the meantime meant that was now no longer necessary.