Social | April 7, 2014

Twibel: How to Ensure You’re Not Libellous on Twitter

Are you staying safe on Twitter? Just as importantly, are you staying on the right side of the law? According to a survey, 46% of 18 to 24-year olds weren’t aware that they could be sued for defamation because of naughty tweets.

Let’s take a look at how libel law affects what you should online.

What is libel?

Libel is a form of defamation. It is, in the words of UK law, a:

“published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation”.

If a statement wrongfully exposes someone to hatred, ridicule or consent; encourages their exclusion from society or harms them financially it’s classed as libel. It’s a civil crime, which means that you can’t go to prison for libel but you can face hefty fines and legal fees upwards of millions of pounds.

There are defences for libel:

  • Truth – is the statement can be proven to be true it won’t be defamatory.
  • Fair comment – If your statement can be proven to be an expression of opinion without malice on an issue of public interest.
  • Privilege – if your statement, in a particular situation is for the benefit of society as a whole.

Twibel

Libel law makes it an offence to make defamatory statements on ‘permanent’ forms of communication.

And although it was originally introduced to prevent people being defamed in newspapers and magazines, libel has become increasingly relevant in the age of the internet and social media. UK courts have given the impression that tweets are just as permanent as the printed word.

Therefore, as far as libel law is concerned, posting anything defamatory on Twitter can land you in big trouble. Retweets carry the same risk – if you retweet a libellous tweet you’re also at risk of being sued.

How the Defamation Act 2013 changed Twibel

An update to the Defamation Act, which was passed in April 2013 changed the game slightly as it required claimants to prove that they have suffered “serious harm” as a result of a statement on social media.

Therefore, if you have 100 followers on Twitter and posted something defamatory, you’re unlikely to have the ‘klout’ required severely damage a person’s reputation. But the notion of “serious harm” could depend on a number of factors. After all, you never quite know how influential your followers are.

How can you stay safe on Twitter? Don’t post gossip and don’t post things that are untrue about others. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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