British Court Says Tweets Can Be Libelous

The ruling means a libel published on Twitter is the same as one published elsewhere, which may set an important precedent for Twitter’s future.

A strange legal case is unfolding in the U.K., which could set a difficult precedent for the future of social networking there.


It’s a bit complicated: The wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sally Bercow, mentioned Lord Robert Alastair McAlpine (formerly an aide to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) in a tweet insinuating that McAlpine was a child abuser. The British court system has now ruled that Bercow’s tweet counts as libel in the eyes of the law.

Importantly the ruling also took into consideration the context of the tweet, its intended audience, and typical Internet chatting norms. The implication is that a tweet can be considered libelous, just as other written defamation is–at least in the U.K. In the U.S. singer Courntey Love became embroiled in a similar scandal in 2011, and in Chicago in 2009 a tweet to an audience of just 20 followers resulted in a $50,000 lawsuit.

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