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Don’t be a Tweet!

Katie Hopkins’ recent and well-publicised defeat in the libel action brought by food blogger, Jack Monroe is a sage and timely warning of the potential perils of posts on social media.

On Friday, Monroe (who self identifies with the pronouns “they” and the title “Mx”) was awarded £24,000 total damages by Mr Justice Warby in a claim centred on two tweets sent by Hopkins to Monroe in May 2015 and which Monroe claimed gave the impression that they had vandalised a war memorial and “desecrated the memory of those who fought for their freedom and had committed a criminal act”. Monroe also contended that the tweets had a natural meaning that Monroe condoned or approved of acts of vandalisation to war memorials. In support of the claim, Monroe relied on the fact that Hopkins, although deleting the first and most controversial tweet, did not apologise or issue any formal retraction of the tweet despite direct invitations from Monroe for Hopkins to do so.

In reply, Hopkins sought to categorise Monroe’s claim as trivial and argued that the tweets had caused no lasting or serious harm relying on the fact that the tweets were only present for “a period of several hours”. Hopkins also argued that Monroe had been tweeted in error and that she had intended to tweet another columnist who had tweeted about the memorial incident

Mr Justice Warby however was not swayed by these arguments and was satisfied on the evidence that Hopkins’ tweets had caused serious harm to Monroe’s reputation, although he stopped short of finding that there had been grave damage to Monroe’s reputation. 

The judgement is one of the first to deal with the new test of “serious harm” and is a stark warning of the issues that can arise in a libel action even where the tweet itself may only be present for a matter of hours. Whilst Hopkins is by her own admission not adverse to courting controversy, this judgement will no doubt have come as a bitter pill for her. Particularly, the judgement criticises Hopkins for failing to accept an open offer to settle for £5,000, a criticism which is likely to reflect itself in the subsequent order for costs.

Mr Justice Warby also highlighted in his judgement the difficulties that can be faced by a litigant where the social media post complained of has been deleted and impresses the importance of litigants and their solicitors keeping a careful record of evidence.

Overall, more and more people are blurring the distinctions between the kind of a private conversation you might have in the pub, or over a garden fence, and a highly visible public comment posted on the internet for the world to see. Tweets are not private and by no means disappear like words in conversation – in legal terms, every time a website is ‘hit’, it is considered as being republished, therefore pages can never go out-of-date unless they are taken down. The potential audience is unfathomably large, and the mode and extent of visibility are highly relevant factors to the level of damages awarded to the defamed

If you have a regular presence on social media, the following are our top 3 tips for effective account management: -

  1. Make sure you have checked and re-checked your facts and that you clearly state the source of any quotes or claims that are not your own. Make sure you trust your source or at the very least, that you have faith in the accuracy of their information. If you are unsure about whether a fact is true or not or if you do not trust the source, the safest bet is to leave it out.
  2. If reporting on a claim or offering an opinion piece, make sure that you cover all counter-arguments or better still, give a mentioned party an opportunity to respond directly to the comments made about them.
  3. If you are in any doubt about the content of your piece, or you anticipate it may attract controversy, consider it in draft with specialist solicitors before publication. At Acuity, we offer over 30 years’ combined experience in defamation claims, including claims in malicious falsehood, and have experience in actions against individuals, multi-national corporations and both national and international newspapers. 

Acuity’s media and reputation management team 

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