Don’t tweet yourself into court!

Kiley Tan is a partner at local law firm Wosskow Brown.  Here he explains that we should all be very careful about what we say on Twitter and Facebook if we don’t want to risk facing legal action for libel.

We hear about it more and more often: a celebrity uses a tweet to name an individual alleged to have done something wrong and before long the whole world’s talking about it. But what happens if the tweet was defamatory, as has been seen in some high profile cases? The rise of social media means that gossip that used to take place in the pub or over the garden fence can now go viral in the space of a few hours.

Some celebrities have more Twitter followers than national newspapers have subscribers. Even the ordinary man or woman on the street can reach thousands of people if their message is retweeted.

What many don’t realise is that publishing online is now seen by the law as being equivalent to publishing in a newspaper or book. Last year nine people were prosecuted for posting the name of the woman raped by a former Sheffield United footballer on social media sites. 

And the law doesn’t only apply to people who originate tweets. If you retweet a defamatory message, you also run the risk of being taken to court. Having few followers makes little difference to how the law looks at the offence.

Twitter can be a great way of communicating: its power is already being harnessed in marketing campaigns and in appeals for good causes. But we also need to be aware of the power of the medium and only post things online if we’re 100% sure they won’t cause offence or harm someone’s reputation.

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