Defamation – Twitter
In addition to bringing a defamation action against the broadcasters of a show, being BBC and ITV (one of which we believe has already settled for a cash sum), following the inaccurate Newsnight report on November 2nd , Lawyers for Lord McAlpine in the UK have threatened legal action against Twitter users . They have identified up to 10,000 allegedly defamatory tweets about the former Tory party treasurer.
There has been a request by the legal team for Lord McAlpine for a fixed fee donation and an apology to mitigate any libel action. He has confirmed that all compensation received from Twitter users will be donated to Children in Need.
This situation clearly sets out the modern issue of social media in the eyes of defamation laws. Users have tweeted and retweeted these tweets (approximately 1000 tweets and 9,000 retweets) however both in essence are treated as printed / publishing and so are at fault.
Notably in America, Kevin Clash, who was the voice of Elmo in Sesame Street, was falsely accused of an indecent matter which involved a similar twitter storm however is not threatening legal action against Twitter users. This is because, in America, the burden in libel cases falls on the claimant to prove the defendant knew the information was false, or likely to be false, or at least was not acting in good faith.
In Ireland and also with reference to this case in Britain, the defendant must demonstrate that the accusation is true to be a full defence in a defamation case.
The question may be asked as to why Lord McAlpine is not suing Twitter itself. He is not the presenters but the broadcasters of the programme and so similarly this asks the question as to why he is not pursuing Twitter. One would assume legal advice would include taking an action against Twitter aswell who should have some responsibility for its output.
A code of practice for social-media providers may be the answer however as matters stand it is important to note that social media forums are subject to the same laws as old fashioned print and the same sanctions under Defamation laws apply.
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