Be Careful What You Tweet And Repeat!

Social Media has long been a legal minefield when it comes to content we create and post for the whole world to see and the consequences it can have for individuals. It has changed the way we communicate forever. Whilst the opportunities are immense, the misuse of Social Media can be costly.

The reputational and financial harm of a post can be significant as controversial TV personality and newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins has found out. Katie was found guilty of publishing libellous statements on Twitter about Jack Monroe and has been ordered to pay costs in the region of £300,000.00.

Justice Warby presiding, ruled that the tweets, which were published on Twitter over a year ago, had a defamatory tendency and although they were mistakenly directed at Monroe, they had the effect of causing serious harm to her reputation by accusing her of condoning and approving the vandalism of war memorials.

What should social media users take from this judgment?

  1. Twitter is not a form of conversation or ‘banter’ but a form of publication for which you can be held to account.
  2. This not only applies to the user’s tweets but any re-tweet of defamatory material on the site that has been posted by another tweeter.
  3. When you make a mistake on social media (especially a potentially libellous one) act promptly to apologise and correct the error. Katie Hopkins failed to publish a correction until around 2 weeks after the initial tweet, and by then the tweet had been read by thousands of followers making it easier to establish that serious harm had been caused.
  4. Twitter rages can be expensive, this case will have an important impact on how the High Court treats social media going forward.
  5. The bar for the “serious harm” to reputation which needs to be proven for a libel claim to succeed under the Defamation Act 2013 is probably lower than we thought.

Katie is to appeal the decision.

Helen Taylor, Employment Solicitor at award winning regional law firm Pictons Solicitors has highlighted the dangers of this from a corporate perspective in her recent article “Social Media in the Workplace – Business or Pleasure”.