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The costly fall-out from Monroe v Hopkins teaches us to always think before we tweet

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By Olivia O’Kane, associate solicitor at Carson McDowell

In a world where most of us are already publishers, it is perhaps puzzling, if not a stark warning, when two experienced writers find themselves in a legal battle over tweets.

That old adage of ‘be careful what you say’ or ‘you are what you tweet’ should not be forgotten. The recent case of Monroe v Hopkins is a good example of the legal consequences of getting social media wrong.

Jack Monroe is a well-known food blogger and cooking journalist. Katie Hopkins is an equally well known media personality, radio host and columnist for a national newspaper.

Following the 2015 general election, the memorial to the women of World War II was vandalised during an anti-austerity demonstration. A columnist for the New Statesman, posted tweets under the Twitter name @PennyRed condoning the vandalism.

Nine days later, Hopkins used the wrong Twitter handle, tweeting the following:

“@MsJackMonroe scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got anymore medals?”

Ms Hopkins later deleted the tweet before posting a further tweet:

“Can someone explain to me — in 10 words or less — the difference between irritant @PennyRed and social anthrax @Jack Monroe.”

Ms Monroe complained that those tweets accused her of vandalising a war memorial and desecrating the memory of those who fought for her freedom, or of approving or condoning such behaviour. She then started legal proceedings against Hopkins (right) for defamation.

This is what fell to be determined before the court:

(i) what did the tweets mean to a reasonable reader;

(ii) whether those meanings were defamatory; and

(iii) if so, whether, in accordance with the English Defamation Act 2013, the harm was serious enough to warrant litigation. The court found that the tweets did cause sufficient harm, stating that the “serious harm requirement is satisfied, on the straightforward basis that the tweets complained of have a tendency to cause harm to this claimant’s reputation in the eyes of third parties, of a kind that would be serious for her”.

The court considered that the tweets conveyed to a reasonable reader a defamatory meaning. Perhaps significantly, the court also remarked that whilst the claimant may not have proved that her reputation suffered gravely, she did nonetheless establish that the harm caused to her reputation was sufficiently serious to justify legal action.

Ultimately, £24,000 was awarded in compensation to the claimant, Jack Monroe.

It didn’t end there, however. Hopkins subsequently sought permission to appeal the original decision to award Monroe damages. The court ultimately refused Ms Hopkins’ application to appeal on procedural grounds and any further right of appeal had to be made directly to the Court of Appeal.

And so it is, ‘To Tweet or Not to Tweet? That is the Question’.  Social media users should think before publishing.  If in doubt, no matter how big or small the issue, seek legal advice.

  • Olivia O’Kane is an associate solicitor at Carson McDowell

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