Is there a difference between online defamation and offline defamation? Jeremy Clarkson, host of the popular television show Top Gear, seems to think so. A good-driving fanatic, Clarkson has taken to outing motorists on his Twitter account. If he catches someone doing something dangerous, he tweets their license plate number, usually with an acerbic quip.
In response to questions about his Twitter activity, Clarkson said, “It [Twitter] has no actual use, but it’s a libel free world out there in the electronoshphere.”
While some may secretly appreciate the public shaming of bad drivers (hey, they can be unsafe), Clarkson could run into online defamation trouble if he continues. Why? Because libel laws do apply to online activity.
Yes, in certain jurisdictions, there are different rules for online and offline libel, but I don’t believe there is a single jurisdiction in the world that says: “If it was done online, it’s not defamation.”
If Clarkson were in the United States, and tweeted the license plate of a car that did break the law, he’d probably win that online defamation lawsuit. The plaintiff in this hypothetical situation would have to prove they didn’t break the law. If the plaintiff, however, succeeded in doing so, and the tweets somehow harmed the plaintiff, Clarkson could be brought up on libel charges.
But the more likely scenario is a typo. What happens if Clarkson accidentally tweets out the wrong license plate? He could be sued for online defamation.
So, the next time you’re thinking about letting loose on Twitter, remember you’re not immune from being sued for defamation. Even if you delete it quickly, if it’s seen, and your adversary manages to capture the content, you could find yourself inside a courtroom, fighting Internet libel charges..
Tweet smartly! And if you find yourself in need of an online Twitter defamation lawyer, get in touch.