Social media triggers 'dramatic' rise in online defamation

Social media has led to a surge in the number of online defamation cases – which more than doubled in the last year according to new research.

The number of UK cases citing online defamation rose from seven to 16 in 2010, while the overall number of defamation proceedings rose by 4 per cent from 83 to 86.

The company behind the research, legal information provider Sweet & Maxwell, said legal experts had predicted a ‘dramatic jump’in online defamation ever since the arrival of sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Libel lawyer Korieh Duodu, of Addleshaw Goddard, said people defamed online ‘often find it time-consuming and difficult to have the offending material removed, because many platform providers do not accept responsibility for their users’ content”.

He continued: ‘Such is the speed at which information travels through social networks that one unchecked comment can spread into the mainstream media within minutes, which can cause irreparable damage to the subject who has been wronged.’

Duodu claimed one factor behind the rise was that so much online content was written by “non-professionals without any of the fact-checking that should take place within traditional media organisations”.

He added: ‘There is certainly a need for greater accountability of the providers of user generated content; a need to tighten the regulatory framework within which they operate. This ought to have been a focus of the proposed Defamation bill currently being debated.”

Meanwhile, Sweet & Maxwell also reported a drop in reported defamation cases involving celebrities, down 59 per cent from 22 in 2009/10 to nine in 2010/11.

The number of businesses using defamation law to protect their reputation against complaints of customers or individuals more than trebled, from five cases in 2009/10, to 16 cases in 2010/11.

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