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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Twitter trial on the cards?

We seem to be heading for a high profile court action over a tweet.

This concerns the action taken by Lord McAlpine over a tweet from Sally Bercow which, he alleges, associated him with claims of sexual abuse.

She is a well known user of twitter with over 56,000 followers and is married to John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons. She denies that her tweet - "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" amounts to defamation.

Neither side is showing any sign of backing down so we could see a full blown trial some time next year. 

I have said before that a comment made via a social media site can be as damaging as anything published in the press or on TV. If 56,000 people retweet to just a 100 followers each, then we are talking big numbers. 

A person who tweets before they think can expose themselves to expensive legal proceedings –

Whether Sally Bercow’s words are in fact defamatory is for a court to decide and I would not presume to predict what the outcome will be.

But what is clear is that the litigation was avoidable. She did not have to post the comment. This is a clear danger of social networking. We have all become social commentators. That can only be a good thing for democracy and anything which widens free speech must be encouraged. But if we are going to become the new media we must be subject to the same legal rules. And if we defame someone then we can be sued or prosecuted.

Is it really worth the 140 characters to find ourselves dragged into court; whether rightly or wrongly?

Maybe sites like twitter need to have a safety net system so before you tweet it asks you if you seriously considered the possible consequences!

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