Online defamation cases more than double thanks to social media

Social media has led to a surge in the number of online defamation cases being brought, according to research carried out by legal information provider Sweet & Maxwell.

The number of UK cases citing online defamation rose from seven to 16 in 2010, while the overall number of defamation proceedings rose by 4 per cent from 83 to 86.

Jeremy Clarke-Williams, head of media, libel and privacy at Russell Jones & Walker, said: “The news that there’s been an increase in defamation court cases involving online publications is not surprising. What is perhaps surprising is how modest the numbers remain – up from seven to only 16 in the last year.

“The colossal increase in the use of social networking sites, blogs and the encouragement to members of the public to interact with postings and articles on websites means the scope to defame has correspondingly expanded.”

Addleshaw Goddard managing associate Korieh Duodu, who specializes in libel law, added that people defamed online “often find it time-consuming and difficult to have the offending material removed, because many platform providers don’t accept responsibility for their users’ content”.

He added: “There’s certainly a need for greater accountability of the providers of user-generated content; a need to tighten the regulatory framework within which they operate. This ought to have been a focus of the proposed Defamation Bill currently being debated.”

Meanwhile, the number of businesses using defamation law to protect their reputation against complaints from customers or individuals more than trebled while defamation cases involving celebrities fell by 59 per cent from 22 in 2009-10 to nine in 2010-11.