Christmas Quiz - Sue me!

It's that time of year again, cold mornings, dark days and runny noses. On the plus side there's mince pies, Christmas sweaters and presents! So we thought it would be nice to kick off the festive season with a quiz, but this isn't any old quiz...

By Zafar Jamati

Social media litigation
Think twice before you tweet
Presenting at the CIPR national PR show on Wendesday, specialist law firm Hill Dickinson LLB, gave an eye opening talk about the risks of litigation in social media. Recent examples of people being sued for tweeting defamatory comments such as the Lord McAlpine v Bercow case have tweaked the interest of the media and the business world alike.

Analysing the industry, Hanna Basha and Magnus Boyd outlined the repercussions of not being careful enough when communicating online.

Only five people out of a packed audience were able to pass the quiz with flying colours. So how do you think you'll compare? Let's kick things off and find out!

Answer the following ten statements:

True or False: 
You cannot be sued for libel if you are only posting something on Facebook, to your marketing list or to your friends.

True or False: 

If you retweet a statement made by your client, they could be sued, but you will not be.

True or False: 

The maximum sum which has been awarded per tweet is under £500.

True or False: 

If all you do is post a link to another site, then you are not liable for what is on that site.

True or False: 

If you draft a press release for a client, they are liable but you are not.

True or False: 

If a statement has been published by the BBC, then you can publish it.

True or False: 

You can repeat what everyone is saying on twitter as its only gossip.

True or False: 

Adding ‘allegedly’ before any statement means you cannot be sued.

 True or False: 

An allegation hinting that someone is guilty of a crime without naming them is OK.

True or False: 

Putting comments in forums from an alias is fine.

Answers are at the bottom of the page. How did you do? Now that you've seen how difficult it can be, let's see what were the recommendations for protecting yourself online.

Cowboy country

In the fast moving world of media and communications, it is often difficult to know the rules and etiquette about what you can and cannot say online. The Internet is evolving so fast that it has fundamentally changed the way news is gathered, how it's edited, the way we search for it and how we communicate it via social media.

The rise of 'Churnalism', the churning out of journalism, has meant that every Tom, Dick and Harry with or without a relevant qualification, can 'enlighten' the masses on the latest news and affairs.

This removal of traditional boundaries comes as a result of too few reporters chasing too few stories with too little time. The dissemination of information on the Internet spreads like wildfire, so much so that news is now determined by its availability not by its importance.

Two thirds of news read on the Guardian website is old news. The shelf life of any given story can trail into weeks after it was initially broadcast or published. The blogosphere is just as guilty of taking any bad news and rehashing it long term.

Litigation

All this means that if something defamatory is said about anyone, it can often go viral and spread outside the control of the individual in question.

Although legislation exists for freedom of expression, the job of litigation is to enforce accuracy in reporting, not to restrict people's right to freedom of speech.

The use of citizen journalists in broadcast news has lowered the content verification and, as such, increased the likelihood of un-moderated allegations against individuals.

So who is responsible if someone attacks you online? Well, this is where the law remains purposefully vague. There is a chain of responsibility:

The author - this may be the blogger who wrote the defamatory content.
The website - the host of the website may be tacitly complicit in any wrongdoing.
The ISP - the Internet service provider has the power to take down any illegal content.
The search engine - Google recently blocked searches for indecent images of children.

Although all of these entities carry responsibility, only the author and the website are legally liable. The ISP could be liable and under current legislation, the search engine is not.

When I asked what regulatory measures she thought were required to inspire confidence in the public, Hanna Basha, social media specialist and legal director at Hill Dickinson LLB, stated:

“The law in this area has to be flexible to deal with different factual scenarios which can exist.  This can create issues as every factual matrix is different, so it can be difficult for individuals to assess whether they have any liability when posting information online. 

The key is to be careful about what you say and to seriously consider taking down information if you receive a complaint.”

McAlpine V Bercow

The case which brought social media litigation to light was the 2013 McAlpine v Bercow case. Lord McAlpine successfully sued Sally Bercow, wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, for defamatory comments she made on Twitter.

She tweeted: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" This was in response to allegations of paedophilia  made against Lord McAlpine on Newsnight a week earlier, which were ultimately unfounded.

Bercow was made to pay undisclosed damages, whilst the BBC paid £185,000 in damages to McAlpine and ITV paid £125,000 in damages. Twitter users with less than 500 followers, who had retweeted Bercow, were allowed to settle the matter by donating £25 to the Children in Need charity. High profile Twitter users with over 500 followers were pursued further.

So how was that for a wintry quiz? As we all indulge this festive season, letting our hair and guard down, spare a few seconds of thought before clicking on that temping 'Tweet' button. 

Answers: They are all FALSE! You can get into some serious trouble if you're not careful.

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

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Zafar Jamati

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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