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Social Media And Defamation Claims in the UK

Social media has revolutionised the ways in which we interact and communicate with one another. As such they are often used as a basis by businesses for marketing campaigns or to create and engage with different communities. It is no wonder then that people are increasingly concerned about preserving their, often carefully crafted, digital reputations.   

Yet, as a relatively new global platform for communication, social media networks have exposed more people to the risk of defamation.  With the option to “share” and “retweet” social media content, false or intentionally misleading accusations have the potential to reach a wide audience of people and damage the reputations of individuals and businesses substantially. In fact, fake news has been proven to spread both more rapidly and extensively on social media networks than truthful news.  

What’s more, defamatory comments also have the potential to cause detrimental financial repercussions and serious mental anguish.  It is therefore important to consider taking legal action to secure removal, obtain compensation for damages and ensure non-repetition. In some cases, a formal statement of apology or clarification may also be issued. 

What is social media defamation? 

Whilst there is no statutory definition of defamation, the legal requirements for a defamation case include: 

  • A statement or publication which refer to the claimant. 
  • A claim within this which has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the claimant’s reputation. 
  • The statement must be false: it must not be proved to be true or justified through other legal defence such as the defence of truth or honest opinion defences. 

The two different types of defamation also include spoken defamation (slander) and written defamation (libel).  

With the option to “like”, “share” and “retweet” social media content, false or intentionally misleading accusations have the potential to reach a wide audience of people and damage the reputations of individuals and businesses substantially. In fact, fake news has been proven to spread both more rapidly and extensively on social media networks than truthful news. What’s more, defamatory comments also have the potential to cause detrimental financial repercussions and serious mental anguish.   

Examples of Social Media Defamation

Examples which may constitute grounds for a defamation claim include posting or even reposting a false written statement about an individual on a social media platform such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn or Instagram. 

Whilst the individual author of defamatory content is usually liable, in some cases internet service providers (ISPs), website operators or employers may be liable in a claim.

Famous Cases of Social Media Defamation  

Famous examples of social media defamation include the 2013 McAlpine v Bercow case and the 2017 Monroe v Hopkins case. Both cases involved false claims made on Twitter which were libellous and resulted in damages and legal fees being paid. 

In the case of Monroe v Hopkins, Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins made two tweets where she had alleged food writer Jack Monroe condoned the vandalisation of a war memorial. It was determined that the tweets were defamatory, and Monroe was awarded £24,000 in damages. 

In a similar vein, in the case of McAlpine v Bercow case, it was ruled that British public figure Sally Bercow made a tweet that suggested politician and businessman Lord McAlpine was linked to a trending rumour on Twitter and was linked to the sexual abuse of boys in care. This was the first successful case related to the issue of innuendo rather than a specific allegation. A confidential sum of damages was awarded to Monroe.   

Evidence Needed to Pursue a Social Media Defamation Claim 

It is the duty of the individual and their lawyer to document evidence of online publications as there exist challenges surrounding disclosure if the publication is subsequently deleted. This material must be preserved otherwise, crucial evidence risks becoming irretrievable.  Furthermore, evidence of serious harm such as experienced or potential financial loss is needed to support a defamation claim. 

In cases where publications are anonymous, there are still steps that can be taken such as contacting the social media platform and securing the removal of defamatory content from the site. We advise you to contact us so we can inform you of your options. 

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