31 Mar DEFAMATION: Jack Monroe vs Katie Hopkins Twitter Libel
As has been widely reported, columnist Katie Hopkins has been ordered to pay Jack Monroe £24,000 in damages over two Tweets. The Tweets, the court found, meant that Monroe condoned and approved of vandalising war memorials commemorating those who fought for freedom.
Hopkins did not seek to defend the Tweets as true. In relation to the first Tweet she had mixed up Monroe and another journalist, Laurie Penny. Rather the argument centred on whether the Tweets had caused “serious harm” to Monroe’s reputation, with the court finding that they did.
[Note that both the Spring 2016 and Spring 2017 editions of zoom-in have reported previously on recent cases interpreting the ‘serious harm’ threshold for defamation claims brought in by section by section 1 Defamation Act 2013 – see the relevant sections of this website.]
Hopkins will also have to pay a substantial sum in costs – an initial payment on account of £107,000 was ordered by the court. Hopkins had sought to appeal the judgment, but the trial judge has refused permission to appeal. The judge found that the application for permission was made too late, and that in any event Hopkins’ grounds of appeal had no real prospect of success.
This is not the first libel case which has come from Twitter. In 2013 Lord McAlpine sued Sally Bercow over a Tweet which said: ‘Why is Lord McAlpine trending. *innocent face*’ after McAlpine was wrongly linked to child sex abuse claims. The court found the Tweet to be defamatory of Lord McAlpine, meaning that he was a paedophile guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care. Bercow settled the case for an undisclosed sum.
Both cases show that on social media we are all publishers, and are subject to libel laws just like broadcasters and newspaper publishers. In particular those with a large number of followers risk causing serious harm to someone’s reputation if they Tweet something defamatory about them. Those with company social media accounts should be careful about who can Tweet and what they are permitted to say. Even if Tweets are not libellous they may be embarrassing for a company. Recently McDonalds said its account had been ‘hacked’ after its Twitter account posted a Tweet about President Donald Trump which read: ‘@RealDonaldTrump You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have @BarackObama back, also you have tiny hands.’ The Tweet was subsequently deleted.