Financial & Legal News

Twibel – How a simple tweet can cost thousands

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The High Court in Cardiff has recently awarded damages to a Town Councillor after what is reported to be the first case in the UK where damages have been awarded for libel on social media website Twitter.

A defamatory statement is one which tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. There are two types of defamation action – Libel and slander. Libel is the publication in permanent form of a defamatory statement ‘written’ whereas Slander is its publication in transitory form ‘spoken’.

In an action for defamation, the Claimant must show that the words or comments made are defamatory, identify or refer to the Claimant and are published by the Defendant to a third party, i.e. posted on a social networking site.

Once the Claimant has proven these requirements, the Defendant in defending those proceedings would need to prove that the statement or comments made were true and therefore not defamatory or rely on another defamation defence such as fair comment or privilege.

In the recent case in the High Court in Cardiff, a Welsh Councillor agreed to pay damages of £3,000 after he published a false and defamatory statement on Twitter stating that a rival councillor had been removed from a polling station by the police during a by-election in 2009.

Both Councillors had been standing for election to Caerphilly County Council during which Colin Elsbury, the Plaid Cymru candidate, claimed on his Twitter page on the day of the poll: ‘It’s not in our nature to deride our opponents however Eddie Talbot (an independent candidate), had to be removed by the Police from a polling station’. Mr Talbot argued that the statement was untrue and defamatory and Talbot said the statement left him open to ridicule.

At the hearing, Mr Elsbury reportedly agreed to pay Mr Talbot £3,000 in compensation and to publish an apology on Twitter. Mr Elsbury also agreed to pay Mr Talbot's legal costs which could run to several thousands of pounds resulting in a very expensive ‘Tweet’.

Think before you Tweet!

It is clear from this case that the Courts will award damages for false and defamatory statements/‘Tweets’/status updates posted on the various social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This case could open the floodgates to many more libel actions from such sites. Unless and until there is modification of the current UK libel laws to take into account the new ways that material can now be published to provide protection to users of such social networking sites and only allow claims where the statements are malicious or cause financial loss many more of these types of actions could soon be before the Court. 

As a firm we have noticed an increase in instructions from clients against whom defamatory comments have been made by others on Twitter and Facebook. Fortunately, these matters can be resolved quickly and inexpensively with a threat of court proceedings and removal of the offending comment / Tweet and it is rare that court proceedings have to be issued.

If you believe that you have suffered damage to your reputation as a result of comments posted on such social networking sites or other media, please contact a member of our commercial litigation team who will be happy to discuss your individual case with you in more detail.

Legal Adice on Social Media Libel

Pearson Hinchliffe Solicitors litigation department has extensive experience in advising on cases of libel and defamatory content online through social media and other websites such as Facebook and Twitter. For further advice, please contact a solicitor using the details provided below.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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