May 14, 2012 at 5:53 PM ET
A mom who dared to share words of encouragement on Facebook to an unpopular reality-show contestant found herself as the target of a hate campaign that's raged for six months. After trolls allegedly set up a fake Facebook page in her name and used it to solicit girls as young as 9, Nicola Brookes decided to sue Facebook to find the names of the unseen people who persist in harassing her.
Brookes, who lives in Brighton, England, has been the target of troll hatred on Facebook since last fall, when Frankie Cocozza, an "X-Factor" contestant, was thrown off the British equivalent of "American Idol" for boasting about drug use. Brookes, whose daughter is a fan of the show, was looking at a Facebook page about Cocozza and saw all the snarky remarks posted to him.
"Keep your chin up, Frankie," she said in her Facebook post. "They'll move onto someone else soon." Move on they did, to Brookes herself.
On the fake Facebook page they created in Brookes' name, the trolls apparently solicited young girls for drugs and for sex, then posted comments on the same page calling Brookes a pedophile. The trolls also later posted Brookes’ Brighton home address and a photo of her daughter, says Brookes.
Facebook removed the fake page, but Brookes wants the social network to turn over the Internet addresses of the perpetrators, hiding behind various identities. She maintains that she did nothing more to inflame their bile than share her "keep your chin up" remark.
"As soon as she posted that comment about the singer, people started hurling awful, nasty comments toward her," attorney Rupinder Bains told msnbc.com in a phone interview. Her London-based firm, Bains Cohen, took the case on a pro bono basis. Brookes, in her 40s, has Crohn's disease and has not been able to work for a while. The Facebook fiasco has made her scared to leave her home, with threats continuing, Bains said.
When the law firm asked Facebook to remove the fake page last fall, it did so quickly — "they were great," said Bains.
"But the trolling hasn't stopped," she said. "The trolls will constantly be on there, making comments about Nicola ... and then they say things on other blogs elsewhere and on their own Facebook pages. We have to take steps to get the identity of these trolls."
Facebook, contacted for comment by msnbc.com, shared this statement:
Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people that use our service. Unlike other websites and forums Facebook has a real-name culture, which provides greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment. We are clear that there is no place for bullying or harassment on Facebook and we respond aggressively to reports of potential abuse.
The site gives users "the tools to report abuse on every page and the option to block people from having any further contact with them. Reports involving harassment are prioritized, reviewed by a trained team of reviewers and removed if they violate our terms."
In a story in the Telegraph, a Facebook spokesman said much of the same, adding that the site responds "aggressively to reports of potential abuse," but declining to comment on the legal action.
Bains believes there may be four or five people behind the harassment/bullying effort on Facebook, but she doesn't know for sure. The law firm plans to request an injunction from the court in Britain to compel Facebook to turn over the computer addresses of those involved in the cruel campaign.
What happens if such an order is granted and the law firms gets ahold of the names? "We would see criminal prosecution once we've identified the trolls," Bains said. Charges could include violations of harassment and communications laws in Britain.
The case, she said, "just goes to show how the veil of anonymity gives an individual so much strength and power," including the power to wound.
Meanwhile, Brookes has been "through times of depression because of this," but she remains on Facebook, Bains said: "She refuses to be beaten by them."