Notebook: Tweets, retweets and defamation

Think carefully before you tweet or retweet. Your legal responsibilities might be much more significant than you previously imagined.

On 2 November 2012 the flagship BBC news programme Newsnight broadcast a report in which it alleged an unnamed senior Conservative Party figure from the 1980s was a paedophile. The name of the alleged paedophile immediately began circulating on Twitter. The BBC report was shown to be false on 09 November by The Guardian. On 10 November George Entwistle, the director-general of the BBC, resigned. On 15 November the BBC announced that it had agreed to pay damages of £185,000 plus costs to the wrongly-accused man.

Lawyers acting for Lord Alistair McAlpine, the wrongly-accused man, announced they would sue everyone who had tweeted or retweeted the name of Lord McAlpine implying or directly saying he was a paedophile. They estimated that about 1,000 people had tweeted his name and about 9,000 had retweeted his name. They also stated that they had the software tools to identify every Twitter account which had tweeted or retweeted the name of Lord McAlpine, even if the tweet or retweet had subsequently been deleted. Lord McAlpine’s lawyers have recently announced that if those who tweeted or retweeted the name of Lord McAlpine apologise formally they will be asked only to pay a nominal sum of £5.00 in damages (to be given to charity). Those who do not apologise will be sued for defamation.

McAlpine – Defamation

mcalpine, defamation

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