It’s already been well established that you can be sued for what you tweet. But a UK politician is taking this logic to the extreme and suing over 10,000 Twitter users for tweeting and retweeting libelous claims that he was involved in a sex abuse scandal. If the lawsuit hits the courts, it will be the largest in UK history in terms of the number of defendants.
It all started with the BBC.
Last month, the BBC aired a show on its highly respected Newsnight program that accused a senior Conservative UK politician of being involved in a pedophilia ring. And although the BBC didn’t come out and say it, Twitter users quickly caught on to the fact that the finger was pointed at Lord McAlpine.
After the show’s airing, the government mobilized and conducted an investigation into the allegations – all the while Twitter had already passed judgement, tweeting that he was guilty… only he wasn’t.
McAlpine wasn’t actually involved in the sex scandal, the BBC retracted its report, and its director resigned. But the damage was done.
McAlpine has already launched a number of lawsuits against the BBC and other outlets for their libelous reporting, and he and his legal tram have now set their sights on the Twitter rumor mill.
According to the Mirror, Lord McAlpine is suing at least 10,000 Twitter users – including several prominent political figures and celebrities – for their malicious tweets following the BBC report. His lawyers have apparently uncovered at least 1,000 tweets and 9,000 retweets that will be used as evidence.
Here’s what his lawyer, Andrew Reid, has to say:
“We have been watching people who have been taking down what they put on Twitter. We already have all the information. We have found a couple of firms of experts who have produced pretweets, post-tweets, the effect of the tweets and the retweets. What starts at one ends up as 100,000 in some cases.”
“Twitter is not just a closed coffee shop among friends. It goes out to hundreds of thousands of people and you must take responsibility for it. It is not a place where you can gossip and say things with impunity, and we are about to demonstrate that.”
As we reported last week, there is some debate as to whether this is a case of free speech or if McAlpine is going too far – but he and his team have decided to push the envelope.
It’s unclear what kind of damages McAlpine will be seeking from these 10,000 Twitter users, but the Mirror does report that at least 40 of them have already approached his legal team and offered an apology and the payment of a small fine.
(Gavel image via Shutterstock)