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When tweets become twibels….

16/05/2017

Lawyer advises businesses to face up to the challenge of social media. Every business using social media should get to grips with publishing law and advertising regulations if they are to avoid reputation-damaging incidents, a corporate specialist from a Wolverhampton law firm has advised. 

The reminder from David Preece, Corporate Partner at FBC Manby Bowdler, follows the news that opinion columnist Katie Hopkins has been refused leave to appeal against a recent High Court libel verdict, where she was found to have published defamatory tweets, or what’s been coined ‘twibel’.  

Anyone using social media is a publisher, putting information out into the public domain, but unlike newspapers and book publishers, most businesses don’t have a good understanding of publishing law and how to avoid breaching it, said David.

"Controlling social media content is a huge issue for business,” he explained. “It’s a fast-moving arena and often posts, tweets, retweets, and comments are the subject of instant decision-making.  

“When careful reflection isn’t part of the equation, it’s not surprising that it can lead to problems. It is important that social media policies are kept under constant review and that everyone understands the boundaries they are operating within, through both the company’s marketing strategy and their terms of employment.

“Staff could also learn from a 26-point guide on how to use Twitter, published by the High Court as an appendix to its official ruling in the Hopkins case, which provides a summary of how the platform works. It makes for useful reading, even for those who think themselves experts, as a reminder of who will receive postings when tweeting, re-tweeting or replying.”  

David added: “It’s important to have a good crisis management plan in place as well, so that if the worst happens and a mistake is made, then everyone knows what to do if something inappropriate has been posted.  

“Taking swift action with a public retraction is a good start and will demonstrate a willingness to tackle the problem. In the case of Katie Hopkins and her mistaken tweet about Jack Monroe, if she had been quick to correct herself and made a public apology that reached the original audience of her tweets, it’s quite likely the case would not have passed the necessary ‘serious harm’ test for defamation and the case may never have gone to court.”   

For Katie Hopkins, the tweets she posted that were found to be defamatory, implied that prominent poverty campaigner and writer Jack Monroe had defaced a war memorial, in a case of mistaken identity.  

Monroe offered her the chance to publicly apologise or face legal action, but Hopkins refused. When the case reached the High Court, the tweets were found to have caused ‘serious’ harm to Monroe’s reputation.  Hopkins must pay damages of £24,000 to Monroe, together with Monroe’s legal costs.  

In making the judgement, the court had to determine whether the tweets met the requirement for harm that is set out in the Defamation Act 2013 and experts say the ruling is the most important case to date involving libel on social media. 

For further advice, please contact David Preece on 01743 266268 or d.preece@fbcmb.co.uk. Alternatively, find out more about our Business & Company Law legal services.

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