Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tweet, Tweet, Old Chap, and All That Defamation...

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseThe U.K.'s first "twibel" case ended badly for a politician in Wales whose erroneous tweet resulted in a defamation judgment against him, according to the Web site Techworld.com.

Colin Elsbury, the Plaid Cymru candidate who captured the 2009 County Council seat, used Twitter to disclose that his opponent, Eddie Talbot, allegedly had been escorted from a polling place by police. Problem is, the tweet wasn't twue, er, true.

"A case of mistaken identity," Elsbury said after the fact. Three-thousand pounds ($4,805) damages, said the High Court after the facts.  Considering legal costs of 50,000 pounds ($80,093) on top of that, and that's an expensive 140 characters, no matter how you look at it.

Elsbury's unwanted achievement of being the U.K.'s first "twibel" case loser is significant in the arena of defamation law because it indicates that libel defendants in cases involving social media, such as Twitter, won't benefit, like print journalism defamation defendants, from the incomplete defense of "retraction"--that is, promptly remedying an erroneous statement with an unequivocal correction and taking back of the false statement. The speed and broad swath of a false Tweet seems to invite swift retribution in the courtroom.

Elsbury accepts the adverse ruling and considers it a warning to others in the Twittersphere, so he's unlikely to welch on his obligation.

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