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The Cases of Lord McAlpine and Adrian Smith

Two contrasting cases in the last week show up clearly the right and wrong ways to use social media whilst staying inside the law.

On the one hand, we have the case of the tweets and retweets incorrectly implicating Lord McAlpine in an abuse accusation, as a result of which quite rightly the said tweeters are threatened with suit for defamation.  The tweets accused, in writing (yes, tweeting is writing), an individual, or at least enabled an individual to be identified, in relation to a serious criminal activity.  Classic defamation stuff.  Why people have thought that social media is beyond the reach of this law I fail to see, but this is certainly the wake up call.

On the other hand

We have the case of Adrian Smith who won his case against being demoted by his housing association employers for putting on Facebook (in his own time), the following private post next to a link about an article saying ‘gay marriage gets go ahead’: ‘an equality too far’.  Later on ‘Friends’ work colleagues not sympathetic with his view on the site asked him to clarify.  He added: ‘I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ want to get hitched in church.  The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women.  If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience’.

This comment was alleged to express a religious or political view which might upset co-workers in breach of a work’s code, but the despite that code, the court would have none of it.  It was a measured statement expressing a view and crucially identified no one either directly or by implication.  Views are views, general personal opinions, and the whole point of a view is that someone else will have a different one.

The use of social media and the law’s reaction to it is beginning to grow up.

Anthony Wooding | Managing Partner
Head of Litigation Department, Kerseys

21 November 2012