Online libel cases double

The number of libel cases in which claimants say they have been defamed online has more than doubled in a year - and the growth of social media may be a cause of the surge, according to new research.

But the total number of defamation cases brought rose by only 4%, from 83 cases in the year ending May 31 last year to 86 in the 12 months to the end of this May, say the figures, drawn from legal information provider Sweet and Maxwell's Lawtel and Westlaw UK services.

Experts had predicted that there would be a dramatic jump in online defamation cases following the birth of social networking and micro-blogging sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Barrister Korieh Duodu, a media specialist with law firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP, said: "Social media tools have over a billion users worldwide and are growing rapidly in popularity.

"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.

"Such is the speed at which information travels through social networks that one unchecked comment can spread into the mainstream media within minutes, which can cause irreparable damage to the subject who has been wronged."

Much material on the internet is written by non-professionals without any of the fact-checking in traditional media organisations, he said, adding: "There is certainly a need for greater accountability of the providers of user-generated content, a need to tighten the regulatory framework within which they operate.

"This ought to have been a focus of the proposed Defamation Bill currently being debated."

A further issue is that journalists increasingly use social media platforms as news sources, which in turn increases the risk that content which is defamatory or breaches someone's privacy rights could spiral into a national news story.

The figures also showed that there was a large drop - 59% - in the number of celebrities suing for defamation, down from 22 in 2009/10 to only nine in the past year.

The drop follows the trend that celebrities are increasingly relying on privacy law and High Court injunctions to block publication of potentially damaging stories.

Mr Duodu said: "With injunctions becoming ever more popular in recent years, many celebrities are now utilising them to prevent stories gaining wider traction in the media.

"The increased use of anonymity orders in privacy claims has enabled well-known individuals to prevent anything being published at all. This will in some cases prevent the need for the individual to sue for libel after the event."


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before