Research from a British law firm suggests that libel cases have doubled in the past year and that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are largely to blame. Legal firm Sweet and Maxwell said that 16 libel cases were filed this year, reports The Independent. For the same period last year, only seven counts of libel were filed.
Defamation, referred to as libel for written, broadcast or otherwise published words, is the communication of a statement or claim implied to be factual that may give an individual, business, group or government a negative image.
"Social media tools have over a billion users worldwide and are growing rapidly in popularity," Korieh Duodu, a lawyer and media specialist with firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP said. "Nevertheless, they can present a huge problem for individuals and corporates trying to protect their reputations from harmful user-generated content. People who find themselves damaged on social media sites can 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."
In the US, a printed article is considered to be true unless proven otherwise. To be considered libel, it is usually a requirement that the claim be false and that it was communicated to someone other than the plaintiff.
In the United Kingdom, however, these rules are reverse. A publication must prove a statement as fact before it can be published. Those who fail to abide by this guideline face strict libel laws. Defamation cases, on the other hand, have only increased four percent for the same time period, from 83 cases to 86 cases year-to-year.
Libel cases have generally been most popular with celebrities and public figures, but such cases are on the decline in the UK in favor of what is known as a super injunction. A super injunction is an order from the High Court that bars all citizens and journalists from discussing details of a court case and even prevents them from mentioning that an injunction has been issued.
A 2011 super injunction involving a British football player made headlines when anonymous Twitter users began tweeting the identity of the individual behind the injunction and other related material about the case.