13 December 2018
Whether you love it or lament it, it’s a fact that much of modern life is lived out on social media platforms. “Performed” might often be a more apt word. Disagreements can escalate into wars and negative comments into seething, pitchfork-carrying mobs – all from the comfortable detachment of a laptop or smart phone. The ease of such an outlet for frustrations can lead to some hasty and ill-advised posts.
As a result, the term “Twibel” has been coined over the last few years to describe the wave of libel cases resulting from Twitter and other social media posts. High profile cases have included Sally Bercow’s settlement over her “innocent face” tweet about Lord McAlpine, Katie Hopkins’ near bankruptcy over her libellous tweet about Jack Monroe, and earlier this year Elon Musk was sued for his tweets about British cave diver Vernon Unsworth.
Jurisdictions the world over are having to deal with this phenomenon in the most reasonable way they can, in a situation where the law is constantly lagging behind technology. In the US, social media is seen as a medium for its citizens’ right to freedom of speech and therefore bringing a lawsuit against someone is a complicated affair. In the UK and Isle of Man, however, written defamation is considered libellous whether it is in print or on Twitter, and vindictive or merely thoughtless Tweeters are being punished.
Furthermore, you’d be mistaken if you thought that reproducing someone else’s defamatory post – sharing or retweeting – allows you immunity to a lawsuit. You can be found equally guilty of libel if you retweet a comment that causes harm to someone’s reputation.
Social media may be fast-paced, with new posts appearing in your news feed every second, but even when a damaging tweet has been deleted the impact on an individual or a company can be ruinous. Someone with a large following has a responsibility to carefully consider their social media posts, because the fallout from a reckless tweet can be catastrophic to their target and to them, should the situation become litigious.
So our advice is simple: think before you tweet, or indeed retweet. Not everyone is as financially robust enough to cope with libel charges as Mr Musk.