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Jason Azzopardi wins €1000 in libel damages over Facebook post

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Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has been awarded €1,000 in libel damages over allegations made on Facebook that the politician used to meet “a working girl at Portomaso.”

Azzopardi had filed a defamation suit following the Facebook post uploaded by Vincent Borg, known as Censu l-Iswed, last August at a time when rival PN factions regularly posted comments in the run-up to the party leadership race.

That post consisted of a set of 13 questions, one of which addressed to “the Honourable Jason Azzopardi,” implying that the politician, branded as one of the “rebel” anti-Delia group, used to meet a prostitute at the St Julian’s hotel.

Borg later edited the post, removing the reference to Azzopardi and he claimed that he was asking those questions “in the name of the members of PN.”

When testifying in court in February, the activist insisted that as a PN member at the time, he felt “entitled” to ask such questions, pointing out that other MPs had offered answers.

Azzopardi had not replied but had sued for libel instead.

When delivering judgment on Monday, Magistrate Rachel Montebello declared that it was “not at all convinced” by Borg’s argument that the reference to “working girl” was meant as “a woman working at the hotel.”

The respondent’s testimony lacked credibility and was intended to “fool the court,” said Magistrate Montebello, adding that the court “gravely detested such behaviour.”

An ordinary reader on social media would not likely delve into the linguistic definition of a word but would grasp its meaning within a particular context, noted the court.

And in this case, the clear message intended to be conveyed by Borg was that Azzopardi had met with a prostitute.

It was obvious that the post had been intended to spark “political controversy” by making allegations against those who, in Borg’s own words wanted “to destroy Delia.”

If proved right, those allegations would evidently place such “rebel” MPs in an uncomfortable position, observed the court.

Putting the allegations in question form rendered them more insidious and increased the “defamatory sting,” said the court, noting further that the concluding remark “Just to remind you,” thrown in by Borg for added emphasis, was intended to convey a clear and direct message.

Within a liberal society like modern Maltese society, in spite of the current debate to decriminalize prostitution, this activity is still looked upon as illegal and degrading, went on the court.

Moreover, society still looks down upon men who seek the services of prostitutes, with a sense of loathing, particularly nowadays when there is a greater awareness about the exploitation of vulnerable women.

Therefore, associating a person with such an activity is bound to negatively impinge upon the person’s reputation by attributing low moral standards.

In this case, the allegation was not linked to Azzopardi’s political or professional role and thus the question put by Borg did not contribute “absolutely anything” to a debate of general public interest.

The imputation could lower the public’s trust in Azzopardi and discredit him in his public function, said the court, adding that the respondent had “absolutely failed to prove that his imputation was somehow founded in truth.”

The court added that it was evident that the question had not been put in good faith and attributing the post to the crisis within the PN at the tim, could not serve in any way to make the question a legitimate one.

Borg had not put forward any proof to support his allegation and had not been willing to reach an amicable settlement nor had he tendered an apology to Azzopardi who was thus awarded €1000 in damages for the defamatory post.

Lawyers Joseph Zammit Maempel and Kris Busietta assisted Azzopardi.

In a Facebook post after the judgement, Azzopardi said he would be donating the proceeds to charity. 

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How to prepare your Facebook account for your digital afterlife

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Today, our online lives are where we share a lot of private and personal information, especially on social media platforms where we share many of our thoughts, post photos and videos over the time we have spent online. Among these social media platforms, Facebook is the most used social media service today. A lot of us, our friends and our family members have a Facebook account. We post and share everything from our private photos to a personal message via Facebook.

But have you wondered what happens to your Facebook account and the information (like posts, comments, photos, videos, etc.) that you have created and accumulated on the service after your time?

■ What will happen to my account?

■ Who can access your profiles?

■ Who will own your account and data?

■ How to manage it when such a time comes?

Facebook has added features to your account so that you can decide what happens to your account when such a time arises. Follow the steps given below to set it up and ensure that the information in your Facebook accounts is handed over to someone else safely or managed according to your choice.

Setting up Facebook’s legacy contact:

In the case of Facebook, you can choose to memorialise your account and hand over the control to a ‘Legacy contact’ of your choice or altogether delete your profile after your time.

Step 1: To set up your legacy contact, you can visit the ‘Settings & privacy’ option under your profile and select the ‘Memorialisation settings’ under ‘General Account settings’. You can also sign in to your account and visit https://www.facebook.com/settings to access this setting.

Step 2: Now, you can choose a legacy contact in this setting by searching for and adding a friend from your account as your legacy contact. Do note that, once memorialised, the legacy contact can only moderate the posts on your page and not post on your behalf.

Step 3: The following setting is to choose whether to allow your legacy contact to download all your data that you have created or shared on your Facebook account like posts, photos, videos etc.

Step 4: The final setting on this page could be considered an alternative to choosing a legacy contact. This setting is to delete your complete Facebook account once you pass away. Facebook needs to be informed about your death and requires verifying it with valid documentation to activate this feature. The company will delete all your information on Facebook on completion of this process.

To know more about these settings, you can visit the FAQ page on legacy contact.

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Big EU lawsuit against Facebook morphs into 3-year ‘partnership’ with complainants

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Three years ago, a group of EU consumer agencies launched a multi-country lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of having illegally harvested the data of millions of users.

More than 300,000 angry Facebook users positioned themselves behind the collective action suit, which promised to award them individual monetary damages if the company was found guilty of wrongdoing.

On Friday, those lawsuits quietly morphed into a brand new partnership with Facebook.

Euroconsumers, the umbrella organization behind the Spanish, Italian, Belgian and Portuguese lawsuits, announced they were entering a partnership with the company focused on the “safety and privacy” of Facebook users.

The move comes after POLITICO reported that Euroconsumers had settled its lawsuit with Facebook at the end of April — and highlights the fact that collective action lawsuits rarely make it over the finish line in Europe, sheltering companies from the type of action that can produce crippling damages in U.S. courts while leaving consumers with little recourse.

Originally, Euroconsumers had told people who joined the case it would seek compensation of €200 for every Facebook user whose data was mishandled.

In the end, though, there will be no court decision, no admission of wrongdoing by Facebook and no direct payment from the company to consumers as a result of the settlement, according to Euroconsumers.

Instead, the consumer groups and Facebook said they were forming a joint committee focused on three priorities: sustainability, digital empowerment and fighting scams. The issue of privacy — which was the explicit focus of the lawsuit — is the “umbrella” under which the thee priorities fall.

As for the consumers, they are being promised a vague consolation prize.

The four consumer groups said they would commit to “reward” consumers who joined the original lawsuit with “a package to help consumers be safe online” — but no hard cash.

Asked whether Facebook had paid money to Euroconsumers in the settlement, the group declined to comment. POLITICO reached out to Facebook, but the company didn’t give an immediate response apart from the press release.

Meanwhile, the committee isn’t committed to producing any specific results.

“There are specific initiatives in the making, but there will also be a consumer reporting channel. We will able to report problems that emerge, like feedback from our members,” said Els Bruggeman, head of policy at Euroconsumers.

A spokesperson for the group said: “It’s the moment to try to influence the reasoning from companies who are managed far away.”

Legally speaking, though, the heat is off Facebook.

The consumer groups will evaluate their collaboration in three years.

“An agreement for one year would be too short. Three years is long enough to be able to evaluate. There will be a lot of changes in the digital world in that period,” added the spokesperson.

In the meantime, a change in legislation may give future collective action lawsuits in Europe more teeth: A directive finalized late last year could lead to bigger pan-European collective redress cases.

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Russian watchdog demands that Facebook delete post insulting WWII veterans

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MOSCOW, May 29. /TASS/. Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) demanded that US company Facebook delete an Instagram post that insults the memory of World War II veterans, the watchdog said on its website on Friday.

“Roskomnadzor has sent a letter to Facebook Inc top management, demanding that content insulting the memory of World War II veterans be deleted,” the watchdog said. “The governmental agency found the unlawful post on the Instagram social network, owned by Facebook.”

According to Roskomnadzor, publication of clearly offensive information that insults Russia’s military glory and memorable dates, or desecrates military glory symbols, or offends WWII veterans constitutes a criminal offense in Russia and is subject to criminal proscution.

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