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Social Media And The Law. Beware!

28th March 2014

Most of us now use or have access to ‘social media’ of some sort. Twitter and Facebook are very much part of our everyday lives enabling any of us to communicate and express our views to both close friends and a wider audience.

However, there are expensive lessons to be learned by the unwary. The golden rule must be “if you would not say something in a national newspaper or on television you should not say it on Twitter or Facebook!” Once published you can easily lose control when comments are “re-posted” or “re-tweeted”.

The case of Sharon Smith is a perfect example of what can happen. Comments posted by her about a former friend were “re-posted” by her sister on an open Facebook page. Libel proceedings were issued and a judgment entered against Ms. Smith.

A recent case involved a businessman who criticised and insulted the new landlord of his local pub on a Facebook page with over a hundred members (calling him ‘Mr Toad’). He was ultimately ordered to pay £9,000 in damages to the landlord.

One of the first libel cases involving Twitter saw New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns awarded £90,000 in damages when he was wrongly accused on Twitter of match fixing. Not only can damages be substantial but the cost of defending a libel action, often brought by the claimant under a ‘No Win – No Fee’ agreement, can be very substantial.

Perhaps the most recent, high profile case involved the Late Lord McAlpine, who was wrongly accused and “defamed” via Twitter in relation to historic child abuse. He widely took action through the Courts and was successful.

We must all be aware that the ‘tweets’ and ‘posts’ that we make are effectively ‘published’. If they are untrue and damage the reputation of an individual, (if they are defamatory), this could lead to us ending up before the Court.

Q & A

Q – Would it still be libel if the comments published were true?

A – You can in some circumstances rely on the defence of ‘truth/honest opinion’ if the facts support you. However, there is always a risk that you might not be able to back up such a defence and attempting to do so may cost a great deal. Better not to end up in Court in the first place!

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