Exposing libel myths surrounding Twitter and social media

The action Lord McAlpine is reportedly taking against Twitter users for falsely suggesting he was involved in child sex abuse reveals a number of “myths” about the legal responsibility in England for false and defamatory tweets and other statements on social media. We expose and correct those myths here.  In short, Twitter users and anyone else using social media is just as responsible for unlawful material as the traditional and mainstream press. Ignorance of the law is not a defence. The message is clear: if you should not say something in a national newspaper or on the sofa of a news show, you should not say it on Twitter. The public cannot treat their posts on Twitter and Facebook as they would a casual chat to a couple of friends in the pub.

If a tweet or blog post is defamatory, untrue and cannot be defended, the maker of the statement can be liable for defamation and for substantial damages. As Lord McAlpine’s actions demonstrate, formal legal consequences may well follow. When individuals post material online, they act as publishers and their publications are subject to the same laws and are as legally responsible as those of professional publishers, such as newspapers or broadcasters…

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