Opinion

Careful what you say, social networking isn't above the libel laws

The Internet may represent a faster, more immediate method of communication and means of providing information but when it comes to the law it can be just as dangerous as print in a newspaper or careless words on the radio or TV.

The growth of social networking forms such as Facebook and twitter are encouraging many people to put down in writing what they might usually only say to a small group of people or close friends. The problem is that their writings on Facebook and twitter are not the same as a casual remark to an associate. They have a potentially much wider readership base and are often public forums rather than private. People need to be aware of the potential for ending up on the wrong side of m'learned friends if they are not careful.

A case in point involves Caerphilly county councillor Colin Elsbury who has been ordered to pay £3,000 damages and legal costs of around £50,000 after Cardiff Crown Court found he had wrongly claimed on twitter that rival Eddie Talbot had been removed from a polling station by police during a 2009 by-election.

In addition to libel damages and costs, Elsbury will also have to tweet an apology. Talbot's solicitor Nigel Jones predicted there could be more libel cases involving twitter in the future because anything posted on twitter is in the public domain and subject to libel laws.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

This was first published in March 2011

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