Lord McAlpine has promised to end "trial by Twitter" by announcing an unprecedented series of libel actions against people who used the website to link him wrongly to child abuse allegations.
Despite the BBC having settled with Lord McAlpine, I have no doubt there is a whole raft of other individuals and organisations out there who will be getting twitchy and fearing a solicitor’s letter landing on their doormat.
Twitter’s Terms of Service are pretty clear on the responsibility for what users write and how it may be passed on beyond their immediate network, clearly stating: ‘You understand that your Content may be syndicated, broadcast, distributed, or published by our partners and if you do not have the right to submit Content for such use, it may subject you to liability.’
Nonetheless, it appears as though many users either have not read these terms or have acted without necessarily thinking through the consequences of their actions. Such oversights can be very costly as a number of professional footballers have recently found out.
The need to exercise caution and the potential for any tweets to be libellous is certainly well known in legal and most media circles, although recent behaviour suggests not as well practiced as one would have assumed! I don’t think Lord McAlpine’s actions will necessarily change anything legally or set any new kind of precedent. However, given the high profile nature of those involved and the very serious consequences coming home to roost, I have no doubt that the message to think twice before you tweet will now be heeded by many more users than before. If not, they will have no-one to blame but themselves.
Leon Deakin, Associate, Thomas Eggar LLP