THURSDAY 30 JAN 2014 10:09 AM


Social media is new territory for defamation and libel law, even seven years on from the invention of Twitter. For companies, the ramifications of any precedents set in this area can be far-reaching in terms of online reputation management. The 2013 Defamation Act asserted that claimants must now show that they have suffered ‘serious harm’ to their reputations as a result of defamatory content.

Libel law, however is still struggling to catch up to the pre-digital age codifications. Recently, infamous Hole-foreman Courtney Love prevailed in social media libel suit in a California court.

The rocker tweeted a disparaging comment about her former attorney and was then sued by the attorney on the basis of defamation. While the case itself has no direct impact on UK law, what it did publicise was that defamation on Twitter can be a legal matter.

Chris Scott, partner at Schillings – specialists in reputation management and privacy protection – says, “US and UK libel laws are very different. While the ramifications of this case are fairly low from a UK perspective, it does reinforce that Twitter content – as we’ve already seen in the UK – is another form of publication to which normal laws apply, wherever it is published. If there is any lesson to take from this case, it’s that those who use social media professionally, especially businesses, need to be alert to the law that applies to them as ‘publishers’ and have the necessary education and processes in place to protect themselves.”

Schillings, which previously focused on defamation law, has repositioned its business to cover reputation management and protection as social media had altered the landscape of libel law. In the UK, defamation cases can be made against Tweeters, but few, if any have been proven guilty of libel.