A Facebook page dedicated to directing hate at an accused murder has sparked a legal row in Australia, after Facebook declined to take down the page despite Police appealing for its removal.
Victorian Police last week arrested Adrian Bayley over the rape and murder of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation employee and Irish expatriate, Jill Meagher, as she was returning home from a Melbourne bar in September.
Her disappearance had sparked a week-long social media campaign to locate the woman, whose body was found in a shallow grave near Gisborne South, about 40 km north-west of Melbourne.
Police are concerned that the “hate pages” – as many as a dozen – could prejudice the trial, and on that basis, have requested Facebook delete at least one page containing offensive material about Bayley, something which Victoria’s police chief commissioner Ken Lay says the company has refused to do.
“We've all got a social responsibility. Facebook is part of our community and I would have thought that it would have only been reasonable,” Lay is quoted as saying by AFP.
“We've got to remember that no matter how horrible this crime is, this gentleman has got to be afforded a fair trial. It's not for Facebook pages or anyone else to be taking justice into their own hands.”
In a separate statement posted on its own Facebook page, Victoria Police has stated that criminal investigations could be launched into the hate sites.
“'Victoria Police is aware of the existence of a number of Facebook pages inciting hateful activity and offensive or threatening comments in relation to the accused in the Gillian [Jill] Meagher investigation,” its statement says.
“'Any pages or posts that appear to be in breach of Victorian contempt laws will be reported to the E-Crime Squad for investigation.”
The case has drawn the attention of Australia’s state and federal attorneys general, with Victoria’s AG Robert Clark calling for a “coordinated, national” approach to handling the potential impact of social media on legal processes, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. ®