Yesterday, we saw two landmark cases as a result of misusing Twitter.
The former New Zealand cricketer, Chris Cairns was awarded damages of £90,000 by the High Court over a defamatory tweet in what is considered to be the first Twitter libel case to be heard in England.
Lalit Modi, tweeted in January 2010 that Cairns had been barred from the Indian Premier League due to ‘his past record in match-fixing’. Modi refused to apologise and maintained that his allegations were true. Whilst it was estimated that the tweet was only seen by 1,100 people, the judge stated that although publication was ‘limited’ that did not mean that damages should be reduced, noting that ‘nowadays the poison tends to spread far more rapidly’.
This case makes it clear that defamation on social media is treated just as seriously if it had been on mainstream media, if not more given the potential for the reputation damage to spread.
The second case reported was in relation to offensive/racial tweets made by a student.
10 days after the nation stood still as Fabrice Muamba collapsed from a cardiac arrest on the playing field at Tottenham, student Liam Stacey was sentenced to jail for 56 days.
Stacey, a 21 year old, tweeted several messages during the Spurs v Bolton FA Cup which were offensive or racist in nature. Although Stacey initially claimed his account had been hacked he subsequently tried to delete his account and tweets before he was arrested by the police. He was found guilty of inciting racial hatred and was jailed. District Judge John Charles told him: ‘In my view there is no alternative to an immediate custodial sentence to reflect the public outrage at what you have done.’
The outcome of these cases is a clear warning to all tweeters and alike. There is no excuse or defence in tweeting blindly. The courts are taking matters seriously as we have seen from the two recent cases and caution should be taken when tweeting. The advice to all tweeters is to stop and think before you tweet!