People can now be held accountable for their actions on social media.
A jilted boyfriend who put nude pictures of his former lover on Facebook has been sentenced to six months’ jail – the first social networking-related conviction in Australian history and one of just a handful in the world.
Ravshan ”Ronnie” Usmanov told police: ”I put the photos up because she hurt me and it was the only thing [I had] to hurt her.”
The six pictures, according to court documents, showed his ex-girlfriend ”nude in certain positions and clearly showing her breasts and genitalia”.
Shortly after posting the pictures on his Facebook page in October last year, Usmanov emailed his girlfriend with the message: ”Some of your photos are now on Facebook”. She had ended their relationship and moved out of their shared home less than three months earlier.
The woman, who The Sun-Herald has chosen not to identify, ran to Usmanov’s flat at Pyrmont, demanding he take down the pictures. When he refused, she called the police.
Privacy experts say Usmanov’s case has exposed the ”tip of the iceberg” of online offences that rarely go punished. Sentencing the 20-year-old, the Deputy-Chief Magistrate, Jane Mottley, said she was ”deterring both the offender and the community generally from committing similar crimes”. She said: ”New-age technology through Facebook gives instant access to the world. Facebook as a social networking site has limited boundaries. Incalculable damage can be done to a person’s reputation by the irresponsible posting of information through that medium. With its popularity and potential for real harm, there is a genuine need to ensure the use of this medium to commit offences of this type is deterred.
”The harm to the victim is not difficult to contemplate: embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety at not only the viewing of the images by persons who are known to her but also the prospect of viewing by those who are not. It can only be a matter for speculation as to who else may have seen the images, and whether those images have been stored in such a manner which, at a time the complainant least expects, they will again be available for viewing, circulation or distribution.”
The court could cite just one other relevant case in which a 20-year-old New Zealand man was sentenced to four months’ jail in Wellington in 2010 for posting nude pictures of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook.
Usmanov, a credit controller for a shipping company, pleaded guilty to publishing an indecent article but appealed the six-month sentence that was to be served as home detention. Justice Reg Blanch of the District Court confirmed the original sentence but quashed the home detention order in favour of a suspended sentence on February 15.
Court papers from the original sentencing reveal discussion over the gravity of Usmanov’s offence. His lawyer, Maggie Sten, argued his was not a ”serious offence”. Ms Mottley fired back: ”What could be more serious than publishing nude photographs of a woman on the internet, what could be more serious?” She added: ”It’s one thing to publish an article in print form with limited circulation. That may affect the objective seriousness of the offence but once it goes on the worldwide web via Facebook it effectively means it’s open to anyone who has some link in any way, however remotely.”
David Vaile, the executive director of the cyberspace law and policy centre at the University of NSW, said crimes of harassment when conducted online were not taken as seriously as physical offences.
”In a sense this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. ”There are very few convictions under harassment and indecent publication. It’s not treated as the same way as, say, breaking into a bank website. There is more police support for criminal damage. In this case, he didn’t slash her tyres in an act of revenge. He slashed her reputation.”
Facebook Australia did not return calls.
The privacy expert Alec Christie a partner at law firm DLA Piper, said the federal government review of privacy stemming from the Australian Law Reform Commission report should include online measures.
”She should be able to take action for the invasion of her privacy but she can’t at the moment. In the online world it is not a Polaroid shared with people at the pub; it’s a Polaroid shared with a billion people or more.”
When approached by The Sun-Herald last week, Usmanov declined to comment. In mitigation, Ms Sten said: ”He was upset so he put the photos up on Facebook. He did this to hurt her. He’s sorry he did that. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. It’s just not something he would normally do.”