Revolutionary Measures

Twitter, libel and lies

Newton's laws

The world of technology invariably desensitises you by removing a physical reaction to your action. There don’t seem to be direct consequences  – hence people are often ruder in emails or on social media than they would be in real life or on the phone. After all, the chances of someone finding and punching you are that much smaller.

This has led a lot of people to see the internet world as beyond the law, a cyber Wild West where anything goes. And, to a certain extent it does – it takes time and effort to track down anonymous internet trolls, often requiring costly legal action to force ISPs or social networks, such as Facebook, to provide their names and addresses. Cases such as the breaking of the Ryan Giggs super-injunction just reinforce this belief.

But Twitter is subject to the laws of the land in the same way as any other written communication. That’s the realisation that is slowly dawning on the large number of people who tweeted or retweeted, wrongly naming or linking former senior Tory Lord McAlpine with child abuse claims. The innocent peer has instructed his solicitors to sue those who have defamed him online, with his lawyers urging those who tweeted the story to come forward and apologise. Many high profile names have already done so but what will be interesting is what happens to those that don’t apologise. They have clearly, if unwittingly, broken the law but tracking down every one of them and launching separate legal proceedings will be time consuming and costly. And it provides an interesting legal conundrum for judges – do you set damages based on the number of followers someone had when they sent the tweet? Is this a real use for Klout scores at last?

Before anyone starts muttering about Twitter crackdowns and eroding free speech it is important to understand the law. You can defend your words based on it being true, an honest opinion or a public service – but blatant untruths and lies are the same online as offline. In the aftermath of the Lord McAlpine case everyone on Twitter should take a look at the risks they face, but more importantly exercise a little common sense. As David Aaronovitch says in this (paywalled) Times article – Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t be happy to see on a newsagents’ shelf with a picture of yourself above it. Or, I’d add that you wouldn’t say to someone down the pub if you thought they might punch you for it.

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November 21, 2012 - Posted by | Creative, Social Media | , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. great post Chris, I always remind to people that a twwet is like a little message you write on a post-it and hang it on your front door

    Comment by Massimo Gaetani | November 22, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] is that the internet cannot be beyond the law. In the same way that the Lord McAlpine Twitter libel case showed that you can’t repeat false allegations and expect to get away with it, neither should you […]

    Pingback by Is this an irrelevant blog? « Revolutionary Measures | March 20, 2013 | Reply

  3. […] is that the internet cannot be beyond the law. In the same way that the Lord McAlpine Twitter libel case showed that you can’t repeat false allegations and expect to get away with it, neither should you […]

    Pingback by Is this an irrelevant blog? – Cabume | Ezymagazines | March 21, 2013 | Reply

  4. […] the law. The laws of libel apply equally to the internet, as many people found out with the Lord McAlpine case. Again, journalists are trained to understand libel law and what can and can’t be said. […]

    Pingback by The rise of citizen journalism « Revolutionary Measures | May 1, 2013 | Reply

  5. […] the law. The laws of libel apply equally to the internet,as many people found out with the Lord McAlpine case. Again, journalists are trained to understand libel law and what can and can’t be said. […]

    Pingback by Citizen Journalism: An new Wave! | n1ck5 | May 17, 2013 | Reply

  6. […] As I’ve said many times, you are what you tweet. And as Sally Bercow’s court case has shown, it isn’t just words, but how they are interpreted, that define you. So be careful what you say, and if you want to put advertisers off the scent throw in a few random […]

    Pingback by Psychology, marketing and Twitter « Revolutionary Measures | June 5, 2013 | Reply

  7. […] but at the moment trolls don’t see the consequences of their actions. In the same way that the Lord McAlpine Twitter libel case brought home to people that social media is not above the law, a similar high profile trial of trolls is needed to demonstrate that abuse, threats and harassment […]

    Pingback by Sorting out the Twits on Twitter « Revolutionary Measures | August 7, 2013 | Reply

  8. […] the law. The laws of libel apply equally to the internet, as many people found out with the Lord McAlpine case. Again, journalists are trained to understand libel law and what can and can’t be said. […]

    Pingback by By The People:the Rise of Citizen Journalism | z3467069 | October 29, 2013 | Reply


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