SPEECH ACT: Can U.S. Citizens Be Sued If They Tweeted About The Lord McAlpine Scandal?

Twitter lawsuits against lord mcalpine tweeters
Can U.S. citizens be sued for tweeting about the Lord McAlpine scandal?

An accusation of a former orphan has resulted in the resignation of George Entwistle, former general director of the BBC, and high-dollar defamation legal settlements for the maligned. According to reports, more suits related to incident are still on the way.

The McAlpine Scandal Explained – Cliff’s Note Style

The melee began when a man claimed that he was molested years ago at an orphanage; he insinuated a current member of the British Parliament was his abuser. While the name of the official was not released in the original reports, clues pointed to Lord Alistair McAlpine. The public – and many members of the media – ran with the story.

The salacious bit of gossip, however, turned out to be false. The accuser reportedly realized his attacker was not McAlpine.

Since the revelation, McAlpine has sued and settled with both the BBC and ITV. Now, he’s going after people who tweeted about the incident; published estimates put the possible number of offending tweeters at 10,000. Even if a user re-tweeted a message, or didn’t use McAlpine’s name outright, under UK libel law, the act is considered defamatory.

In 21st century fashion, McAlpine’s legal team added a section to their website on which they invite Twitter-users, with fewer than 500 followers, to submit an apology, via an online form, to avoid prosecution. High-profile tweeters, however, can expect to be served any day now.

Can U.S. Citizens Be Sued For Libel In Another Country? It’s Tough Thanks To The SPEECH Act!

This scandal raises the question: can United States’ citizens be held liable for libel if they tweeted about the McAlpine incident? In a word, yes, U.S. citizens can be sued; but due to the SPEECH Act, if found liable, there’s a good chance the case won’t be recognized by U.S. courts — that is if the U.S. tweeter did not directly make a false statement of fact in their 140-word missive.

Signed into law in 2010, the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act aims to reduce the number of libel tourism lawsuits and safeguard free speech liberties for United States’ citizens. Essentially, the statute allows for declaratory relief for Americans who lose foreign libel cases; specifically, it’s a declaratory judgment is a legally binding declaration that is used to preempt a person from enforcing a judgment in the U.S. A SPEECH Act Declaratory judgment, however, would only be possible if the original claimant interfered with the U.S. citizen’s free speech rights.

Kelly / Warner Law focuses on Internet libel legal matters. Contact us today if you need an online defamation lawyer to assist with a matter.

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