Defamation by tweet

Let’s face it, journalists are no longer the gatekeepers of media content and they haven’t been for some time - we are. Anyone can call themselves a journalist these days just by having a Wordpress or Twitter account. Yet whilst media laws are enforced on traditional journalists to avoid classic cases of defamation, just how do you tackle equal enforcement on the rest of the world and perhaps conversely, whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Over the last 18 months there’s been huge increase in the number of defamation cases and disputes over libellous comments made via social platforms such as Twitter.  Most recently, Tory MP Lord McApline’s declaration of war on 10,000 Twitter users and the arrest of a 17 year old boy for ‘malicious communications’ towards Olympic athlete, Tom Daley.

Blurring the lines

Whilst both are perhaps extreme cases, they are not isolated incidents and raise serious questions about increasing public awareness over media laws. Unless you’ve studied law or journalism the chances are you simply don’t know what you can and can't say in those precious 140 characters. Many Twitter users still stand by the belief that Twitter being the social platform that it is, is simply another mechanism for a conversation and has the same ramifications as chatting with a friend in the pub. This ideology affirms that the lines between what we define as public and private discourse are becoming increasingly blurred.

International policy

Even retweeting can be perilous in UK law and different regulations exist worldwide which heavily influence the outcomes of many cases. For example, US law stipulates that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Furthermore, according to the Speech Act 2010 if an American user were to defame a British citizen, such as Lord McApline, foreign libel judgment becomes unenforceable in US law, unless those judgments also comply with American regulations of protected speech.

Raising awareness

Confusing. So how exactly can we expect 517 million users (and that’s just Twitter) to get their heads around it and think before they tweet? It’s simply not enough to expect users to adopt a common sense policy; public awareness needs to be raised where there's optimum reach -  via social campaigns. Whether this is the responsibility of individual platforms remains to be seen; either way this issue is clearly here to stay and there are a lot of sticking points to be clarified before we can move on.

Do you agree/disagree? Either way, tweet us (if you dare) and tell us what you think.

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