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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

COLUMN: Beware Of What You Tweet

Luke Patel is a Partner at Leeds law firm Blacks Solicitors LLP specialising in commercial dispute resolution and heads up that team. Luke has been named Leeds' most 'Influential South Asian 2021 by Asian Standard readers. Described in the Legal 500 as “exceptional” he primarily acts for individuals, owner managed businesses and SME’s in a wide range of sectors.

According to Statista there are 57.6 million active social media users in the UK, as of February 2022, meaning 84.3 percent of the UK population uses social media.  Well the popularity of social media is certainly evident, however while the digital world has its positives it also has its negatives.

As a legal expert I am often advising about the risks of posting online and how important it is to be sensible with what we share and what we say on the internet.

For example, let’s take a look at TV personality Rachel Riley’s case, who was recently awarded £10,000 in damages by the High Court after it ruled that Laura Murray, an ex-aide of the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had sent a defamatory tweet about her.

Image: Natee Meepian/Shutterstock

On 3 March 2019, Mr Corbyn was assaulted with an egg whilst he was visiting a mosque in London.  Miss Riley, one of the presenters on Channel 4’s Countdown show, posted a screen shot of an earlier tweet posted on 10 January 2019 by the Guardian columnist, Owen Jones, commenting about an attack on the former British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, in which he said: “Oh; I think an egg was thrown at him actually.  I think sound life advice is, if you don’t want eggs thrown at you, don’t be a Nazi.  Seems fair to me” and Miss Riley added the words “Good advice” with emojis of a red rose and an egg.

In response to Miss Riley’s tweet, Miss Murray tweeted: “Today Jeremy Corbyn went to his local mosque for Visit My Mosque Day and was attacked by a Brexiteer. Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi. This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her. Ever.”

Miss Riley said that she was being sarcastic in her original tweet and that she did not call Mr Corbyn a Nazi and she pursued a defamation claim against Miss Murray on the basis that Miss Murray’s tweet had caused serious harm to her reputation.

In defamation claims there is a defence of honest opinion if the Defendant can show that:

  • The statement is one of opinion (not fact);
  • The statement indicates, either in general or specific terms, the basis of the opinion; and
  • An honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact which existed at the time of publication.

Miss Murray claimed that what she had tweeted was true and reflected her honestly held opinions.

However, the Court found that when Miss Murray referred to Miss Riley’s tweet as having publicly state that Mr Corbyn deserved to be violently attacked this was not true, because she failed to qualify that statement by reference to the other meanings that Miss Riley’s tweet could have had.  On that basis the Court held that Miss Murray’s tweet was defamatory, and her defence of honest opinion failed because she had not accurately reflected the meaning of Miss Riley’s tweet.

The Judge also dismissed Miss Murray’s defence that she had reasonably believed she was making a statement on a matter of public interest.  The Judge accepted that Miss Riley’s tweet was a matter of public interest and that Miss Murray believed that it was in the public interest to react as she had done, but he found that because she did not provide readers with what he considered to be an accurate account of what Miss Riley’s tweet meant, Miss Murray’s belief was unreasonable.

The implications of this decision may be far reaching for those who make statements about what others have published on matters of public interest, be it on social media or other platforms.  Those who choose to criticise what others have said or written will need to take care of what they themselves write.

Defamation cases are very tricky, but with more than twenty years’ experience in the field, I am confident I can assist with any defamation claim. You can contact me at Blacks Solicitors on 0113 2279316 or email me at LPatel@LawBlacks.com.





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