Just in case you have missed the media storm created when blogger and food writer, Jack Monroe challenged and won the case against the Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins over tweets, here’s a summary of what can be learnt from this dispute.
This is the first instance of a case which defines the meaning of ‘serious harm to reputation’ introduced by the Defamation Act 2013, as ruled by Justice Warby. The case concerns a tweet from Laurie Perry the columnist from the New Statesman about graffiti on a war memorial which Katie Hopkins mistakenly attributed to Jack Monroe. From this initial spark the fire spread as further tweets were posted between Monroe and Hopkins. Monroe received numerous online attacks and also death threats. While some tweets were quickly retracted, their removal was not quick enough to halt the damage done. Ultimately Hopkins was ordered to pay Monroe damages of £24,000 over two tweets and is now making an appeal to the High Court.
Here are key points to can learn from this case of defamation.
Top of the list: resolve a dispute early and save on costs
In this instance a swift apology from Katie Hopkins to Jack Monroe may have been enough to prevent the effect of the initial tweet spreading across the Twittersphere. Warby noted that an offer of amends early on could have lead to early resolution and a huge reduction in costs.
The series of back and forth tweets which followed the initial tweet further compounded the issue. Hopkins’ apology was delayed as solicitors’ exchanged letters and the process has taken over 18 months to resolve. As Monroe was acting on a no-win, no fee basis, Hopkins was ordered to pay an interim amount of £107,000 on account of costs within 28 days. The final costs amount is to be decided.
While this may be seen by some people as an extraordinary response to social media (which can be viewed as mere light entertainment), it is a reminder that opinion and comment when combined with the public and global nature of social media have the potential to result in cases for reputational damage, libel or defamation.
Next: social media can be a mine field
There has been much debate about the role of social media and professional services. In the case in question, the spark was a case of mistaken identity. Saying sorry quickly and publicly might have been enough to stop the inaccuracy spreading like wild fire.
Individuals making comments are intrinsically linked to the company or bodies to which they are connected. By default this can lead to the perception that they represent the views of the organisation. It is not unusual to see the words on social media such as ‘views expressed are my own’ alongside a person’s short bio. When posting any comment, the common sense advice is to Stop. Think. Post. This 3-step process can minimise the chance of a dispute down the line.
Finally: key takeaway from Monroe v Hopkins
In summary, the main advice is that when facing a dispute, look to resolve it early and quickly. Speak to an expert dispute resolution lawyer sooner rather than later to save money and time, and as can be seen in this instance, serious stress and upset for all concerned.
If you find yourself facing a dispute and would like to speak to someone, contact John, one of our dispute resolution experts for a free, no-obligation discussion about your situation.
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