TWITTERING LIBEL

June 8, 2013

There has been quite a bit of media coverage lately about the ramblings of users on Twitter, and social media blogs in general, and their potential impact outside cyberspace. It is important to remember that users of social media websites, including Twitter, are not immune from legal action on foot of a defamatory post or tweet and are treated in much the same way by the Courts as the mainstream press.

There are some important points to note for posters and Tweeters generally:

1. If a comment made on social media is untrue and cannot be defended then the author of that statement may be liable for defamation and potentially for substantial damages;

2. A re-tweet of a false or defamatory tweet published by another is also not immune from legal action as the recent flurry of litigation involving Lord McAlpine demonstrates. A re-tweet amounts to a further publication and therefore the publisher of the re-tweet is responsible for the content of their re-tweet. The more often a tweet is re-tweeted (in effect repeated) the more damage it can do and the higher the likely compensation to be awarded.

3. It is not always possible to avoid liability for a defamatory tweet or post on a social media blog by not expressly naming the target of the defamatory statement. The target, if they can be identified, will be able to sue even if they have not been expressly named.

4. It is common that the author of a defamatory comment made on a social media website will use a false name or post anonymously in the hope that this will make them immune from liability. However the author of that post or tweet will likely have left a trace thereby allowing the subject of the defamatory comment to trace the author through the assistance of the operator of the social media website and the author’s Internet Service Provider.

5. It is for the author of the statement to prove that their published comments are true or that another defence applies if the subject of the defamatory statement is able to show that their reputation has been harmed or diminished as a result of that post or tweet.

Should you require any further information about the contents of this article please do not hesitate to contact Fergal Maguire at

E. f.maguire@cfrlaw.co.uk
T. 028 90271307.