Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Irish judge orders Twitter to remove defamatory Twitter profile

In The Irish Times Ray Managh said:
"Twitter International was directed by a High Court judge in Dublin today to remove from the internet “grossly defamatory and offensive sexually related pictures and tweets” about an Irish schoolteacher. 
Mr Justice Michael White ordered Twitter International, which has its registered address at Pearse Street, Dublin, to immediately take down the offensive material contained in a profile associated with the woman. 
Judge White said the court would make no comment on the liability of Twitter which had previously indicated it simply facilitates members of the public to engage in discourse over the internet. 
Twitter had denied liability for posting of the pictures and tweets. The judge told barrister Shannon Michael Haynes, counsel for the woman, that while the proceedings had been heard in public he would direct that the profile complained of should not be identified by the media."

Monday, 30 December 2013

What Are Positive Effects of Social Media in the First Hours of A Crisis Like the Boston Bombing?

This was the question put to a panel of speakers on the April 19 2013 episode of Radio 4's 'Any Questions?' The special edition was hosted by Columbia University in New York, a most fitting location for such as discussion. You can hear the discussion in full here.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Olivia O'Kane - Key changes with England and Wales Defamation Act

The Defamation Act 2013 will come into effect in England and Wales as of January 1 2014, as we explained earlier here. Ahead of the new year Olivia O'Kane, Northern Ireland media lawyer at Carson McDowell and media law blogger, explains the 9 key changes enacted under the Defamation Act 2013. Click below to see the rest

Friday, 27 December 2013

Lessons from McAlpine v Bercow

Ahead of the new year and thus the coming into force of the Defamation Act, it is of value to cast our eye back over the lessons we learnt from the Bercow v McAlpine case. As Feargus O’Sullivan said in The Financial Times here, although Ms Bercow’s tweet would still fall foul of the new law, the situation may nonetheless change somewhat when the Defamation Act 2013 comes into force.

Over to the May 13 High Court ruling. Presiding over the case between Bercow and McAlpine was Mr Justice Tugendhat who found that Sally Bercow had libelled Lord McAlpine by publishing on Twitter defamatory, albeit "nuanced", communications. Full judgement can be read here. Bad for law firm Carter-Ruck who had been instructed by Bercow. In his summation, the UK's senior libel judge Judge Tugendhat said:
“I find that the Tweet meant, in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that the Claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care. 
If I were wrong about that, I would find that the Tweet bore an innuendo meaning to the same effect.”

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Northern Ireland Law Commission recommends libel law review

In the period between May and June 2012 Sammy Wilson, then Finance Minister, vetoed the Defamation Act 2013 without consulting any of the other parties, deciding not to pass a 'legislative consent motion'. He said that threats to free speech were "just a load of nonsense."

In May 2013 Mike Nesbitt introduced fresh libel legislation (our post here).

In September 2013 the newly installed Finance Minister Simon Hamilton asked the Northern Ireland Law Commission to cast "a fresh pair of eyes" over the Defamation Act 2013 (our post here)

In November 2013 the First Minister Peter Robinson said he supported the original veto and said that fears were "absurd".

Following the September referral to the Law Commission the News Letter has reported here that the Law Commission has recommended a public consultation on Northern Ireland’s libel laws. The Law Commission has given the advice to Simon Hamilton after he asked it to look into the issue (we looked at that move here and Tony Jaffa welcomed the development here).

The commission’s chief executive Judena Goldring has made the advice to DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton after he asked the agency to look into the matter. The Law Commission must now await formal clearance from the Justice Minister before it begins work on the project in the new year and submits a report to Executive ministers.

In February 2013 the former DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson made the unannounced decision to block Northern Ireland from the sweeping reforms of the British libel laws which have liberated and strengthened the protections on free speech for journalists, academics, internet users and others. The unilateral move has been opposed by some leading libel lawyers who claim that it will make it too difficult for ordinary people to sue publishers. Ms Judena Goldring told the News Letter:
"Our initial advice to the finance minister is that there ought to be a full public consultation on the issues here so that the people of Northern Ireland have a good opportunity to contribute to that discussion... Once formal approval is forthcoming we will expect to have a full public consultation on the issues here so that the people of Northern Ireland will have a good opportunity to contribute to that discussion and we can have a proper public debate on the issues."
Ms Goldring stressed that the commission wanted to see a balanced debate, not a “skewed” one.
“We will do the research and arguments on all sides and put that, in an unbiased way, into the public domain in the form of a consultation paper.”

She said that the commission was “fortunate” that there had already been a major consultation on the issue in England and Wales and the defamation law in Northern Ireland is “very similar” so the commission had “the benefit of all the responses back to that”.

Ms Goldring said that the commission would then put its recommendations to the Finance Minister. Ms Judena Goldring praised Mike Nesbitt, who has introduced fresh legislation here, for his handling of the issue, saying that he had been "very responsible and helpful" with the commission. She said: "He has done a lot of work in bringing this issue to the fore and taking the very responsible position that he has adopted in letting official consultation brought forward by the Law Commission to take it on."

News Letter report in full here.

For earlier post on the matter of libel reform in Northern Ireland, Tony Jaffa supports Law Commission investigation here, the News Letter said it supported libel reform here, Peter Robinson said that he saw no point in libel reform here and media lawyer Paul Tweed supported the Sammy Wilson veto here. The Stormont Committee found the libel reform was unnecessary here. Paul Connolly in the Belfast Telegraph and Lord Black backed reform here, 31 writers and poets called for libel reform here. Mike Nesbitt introduced new legislation here and explained why Northern Ireland needs libel reform here. His draft bill is here. David Pannick QC said here that an "unpleasant odour" was coming from Northern Ireland's libel laws. A doctor said here that the current libel laws in Northern Ireland had contributed to patient deaths. Mike Harris from Index on Censorship made representations before Stormont Committee on the need for libel reform in Northern Ireland, see here. Index's letter to the Stormont Committee can be read here. Jo Glanville of English Pen slammed the Stormont libel veto here. Lord Bew said here that the NI libel laws were bad for academics and journalists. Lord Black said here that the libel veto puts jobs and investment at risk. The Ulster Business Magazine asked NI media lawyers Paul Tweed and Olivia O'Kane if people should be worried by Northern Ireland's libel isolationism here. A May 2013 analysis of the events surrounded libel reform in NI here. Sam McBride tweeted about the possible consequences of the libel veto here. As did Newton Emerson here.

Mike Nesbitt wrote in the Belfast Telegraph on July 23 here:
"In all my years in broadcast journalism, I was involved in very few cases of defamation, but, of those that did emerge, all involved the political classes. Indeed, they all involved the DUP: two were brought by elected representatives; the third by those offended by comments made by one of their senior members.
So, should politicians declare an interest when commentating on the laws of defamation? They should certainly bear it in mind."

Monday, 23 December 2013

Is Social Media Uncontrollable?

In a recent episode of The Big Questions (broadcast April 28 2013), Nicky Campbell tackled the issue of social media misuse and abuse.

The context? Two days prior on April 26 2013, Dean Liddle and Neil Harkins were both handed down suspended sentences (see here) for breaching a court injunction that banned any revelation of the adult identities of Jon Thompson and Terry Venebles – the killers of James Bulger.

Last Febrarury the two men had both posted photos on Twitter and Facebook that claimed to be of the two child killers. As the judge rightly said, the photos could have been seen by thousands of social media users. This was an act directly in contempt of court.

In that context we ask: Is social media out of control? Vicky Beeching, research fellow in internet ethics at Durham University kickeded things off and gave a twofold answer. She said:
"Firstly, we need to remember that social media is in its infancy. It’s so young. Twitter has turned 7, YouTube has turned 8. We’re literally taking baby steps. So we can’t panic and say it’s out of control. 
Secondly, the danger is when we look at the technology and we say that technology is to blame, we need to remember that all technology, whether it’s the invention of the wheel, the printing press or the internet: they’re neutral tools, they’re in our hands and if they’re out of control it’s simply a sign that we’re out of control."
Nicky Campbell rightly added that social media is in effect a reflection on us. But by and large most people are decent and they are fair. Nicky Campbell then asked: Is there something about social media that allows people to be particularly vile? Kate Smurthwaite, feminist writer said in response:
"Yes, absolutely. Several decades ago Germaine Greer said, ‘women have little idea how much men hate them.’ Well thank you to the internet we now know. I’m less than a week away from my latest death threat. That’s my life. That’s normal for me (reminds me of the abuse Mary Beard got when she appeared on Question Time).

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Social Media and the Law Across the British Isles

In the same week that will host the final game of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia I have produced a comprehensive overview of the laws that govern Facebook and Twitter across the British Isles. This includes separate and specific analysis of the four jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

England and Wales

On September 20 2012 Keir Starmer QC, DPP for England and Wales announced that new social media prosecution guidelines would be discussed after a series of controversial arrests and prosecutions. For some time the public had been critical of the heavy-handed approach of the police and judiciary against social media users.

Judges and other law officials had also voiced concern about the uncertainty of the law. And I think everyone had a genuine desire to uphold traditional notions of free speech. The whole problem was typified by the #TwitterJokeTrial which involving Paul Chambers who tweeted that he would blow up an airport if his flight was cancelled.

On December 19 2012 the interim social media prosecution guidelines were then published. On the same day a public consultation was launched. The consultation process closed March 13 2013.

On June 20 2013, almost 9 months to the day after Keir Starmer QC announceed that the Crown Prosecution Service and other law makers would discuss social media laws, the full and final social media prosecution guidelines were published.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Your Twitter history can haunt you

Crude but a powerful metaphor that captures just how destructive social media can be:
"With twitter, once its out there & you try to remove tweets, it's like trying to taking piss out of a swimming pool."
There's just no hiding. The social analytics company Topsy now offers the entire history of public tweets on Twitter. Even deleting a tweet won't cover your back. If someone retweets the offending or questioned tweet it has been cast in concrete. As an Irish politician found out. Find out all about that here.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Ruth Patterson - All charges dropped

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

John Cooper QC on Social Media and the Law

John Cooper QC and Paul Chambers of #TwitterJokeTrial

Below are the blunt words of Keir Starmer QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). And why the bluntness? The former head of public prosecutions in England and Wales was obviously angered by the criticism delivered by experienced criminal silk, John Cooper QC (@John_Cooper_QC) who cast doubt on the newly published (December 19 2012) interim social media prosecution guidelines. Here's what he said:
“Well I don’t think John Cooper with all respect has seen anything like the number of cases I have. I don’t think he has thought about the sophistication of the issues. There are many cases…I mean he can point to one case [the Twitter Joke Trial]…yeah he makes a cheap point about one case. I've got to deal with the many thousands of cases that come in; I've got to deal with all the chief constables. So, yes, nice cheap point, but actually let’s get back to reality.”

How to report Twitter abuse and violations


Here are the basic steps any person concerned should take:
"Where an individual is being abused: “Twitter can only accept reports from the individual directly involved in the abusive situation, or their legal representation. We encourage people to file reports of abuse so we that we can investigate the situation and take action if necessary,” quoted by Twitter.
Report Abusive User by registering information here.

Violation of copywright and abusive content

To report both abusive content and unauthorised use of copyrighted and trademarked material, click here to access information on how to reporting accounts.


In the first instance contact the police where defamation/libel has occurred. At the same time you should report the account using the ‘Report Abusive User’ link provided above, and also request its removal via the links on the ‘How to report violations page’.

If you go down the copyrighted materials route, here is the information you require. You should say: “I am reporting on behalf of the rights holder, as their authorised representative.

Name of Rights Holder: Chris Shea. Your relationship to the rights holder: Colleague… if they ask for this information. We haven’t raised a trademark complaint on Twitter before and therefore don’t know what other questions are asked once you get into the form. Hopefully the information in this table should cover it.

Further reading and information

Further information from Twitter support page on dealing with online abuse here.

Twitter advice on safety and security here.

BBC guide to the law for Twitter users here.

BBC guides to what you can and can't say on Twitter here.

News surrounding defamation and libel in the Financial Times here

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

When Twitter accounts go rogue

The image above is of a rogue tweet made by the former head chef of the Plough Pub and eatery. Having lost his job the man decided to reveal damaging information. This shows how social media is not only a weapon of mass reputational destruction from outside, but also from within.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Panel - Social media, politics and protest

I had the great pleasure of featuring on the panel event, Social Media, Politics & Protests at University of Ulster on social media and civic change on December 10 2013, organised by (@ornayoung). Alan in Belfast (@alaninbelfast) covered the event on Slugger here. Alan in Belfast also has audio here and here. Images from the day here.Tweets from the day via Storify here.

The TCD Social Media panel which preceded this event in October 2013 can be seen here. See my discussion with Sharon O'Neill of UTV on social media law here.

Below is a paraphrased account of my presentation from the UU event:

1. Overview of social media and the rule of law:
"In the last decade we've seen a creative technological explosion. Technology is ubiquitous. Technology has penetrated into every corner of life. It's power lies in the freedom it gives people. The freedom to build and maintain new and old relations, create businesses and overthrow tyrannical governments. 
But this is a two-pronged freedom. Social media gives the freedom to do great good. Social gives the freedom to do great bad. By that formula, social media is both a criminal weapon and a weapon of mass reputational destruction.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Belfast woman may face prosecution for sectarian comment in relation to the Clutha Bar helicopter crash

Liz Bingham whose UVF father was shot dead by the IRA in the 1980s could be prosecuted after it was alleged she asked if there were any ‘taigs’ on board the Police Scotland helicopter or The Clutha Bar into which it crashed. Read more here.

This follows the arrest of a Scottish teenager who made sectarian remarks in relation to the same tragic event. Read more here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Defamation Act 2013 will come into full force in E & W on January 1 2014

The Defamation Act 2013 (Commencement)(England and Wales) Order and the Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 were made on December 2 2013. The Defamation Act 2013 will come into force in England and Wales on 1 January 2014. After that date it will apply to causes of action “accrued”, i.e. to libels published from 1 January 2014 onwards.

The new libel law was vetoed by Stormont. Mike Nesbitt has proposed a Bill, its consultation is complete and is now been put before the Law Commission NI by the Finance Minister Simin Hamilton. 

In the Financial Times, Feargus O’Sullivan said
"Although Ms Bercow’s tweet would still fall foul of current laws, the situation may nonetheless change somewhat when the Defamation Act 2013 comes into force. It may become harder for the injured party of a perceived social network libel to seek legal redress. Courts will require proof of “serious harm” to reputation before a case can proceed. The act provides a statutory defence of “publication on matter of public interest”. It also makes defences of “truth and honest opinion” statutory. The reform is probably for the best. No one really wants social networks where users feel at risk of legal action for expressing a negative but honest personal opinion, and it is helpful to have the law simply expressed in a statute that is easily accessible.
Initial comments via Inforrm blog here

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Tony Jaffa welcomes developments on Stormont's Defamation Bill

Northern Ireland lawyer Tony Jaffa wrote in the Belfast Telegraph here:
"The news that Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has asked the Northern Ireland Law Commission to examine the Stormont Defamation Bill is good news for Ulster's publishers, broadcasters, bloggers and academics.While the rest of the UK will see the new Defamation Act 2013 coming into force on January 2, 2014,Northern Ireland libel law remains rooted in legislation that was formulated well before the internetand social media became part of our everyday lives. 
For those of us who are keen to see this relatively obscure, but fundamentally important area of law updated as soon as possible, Mr Hamilton's intervention could be the best way of achieving at least a measure of reform. After all, if the NI Law Commission advocates reforms, it is hard to see how those reforms could be different from the rest of the UK. 
As a solicitor who advises publishers and broadcasters in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, I can hear some people already thinking: "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?""
To read in full click here.

Friday, 6 December 2013

News Letter supports libel reform

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Dominic Grieve publishes advisory notes to help prevent social media users committing contempt of court

Twitter and other social media users have been warned that by commenting on court cases online they could be inadvertently be breaking the law. Dominc Grieve, the Government's chief legal adviser has issued previously unpublished advisory notes to help prevent social media users committing a contempt of court.

Read more here. Mr Justice Tugendhat spoke and made law here.

Bob Dylan meets Europe’s neo-blasphemy laws

Ed West writes in The Spectator here:
"The French authorities are investigating Bob Dylan after some Croats were offended by something he said in an interview with Rolling Stone last year. The singer had said: ‘If you got a slave master or [Ku Klux] Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.’ 
Dylan is the latest victim of Europe’s neo-blasphemy laws, in which offending someone’s group identity is treated in the same way that offending God once was. When Christianity stops being sacred, everything becomes sacred; did GK Chesterton say that? Well it’s the sort of thing he might have said."

Monday, 2 December 2013

Teenager arrested following sectarian Twitter comments about Clutha crash