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Twitter defamation and harassment

The damage to reputation and well-being as result of posts or threats of posts on social media, particularly on Twitter and Instagram is often impossible to quantify. If you have suffered damage to your reputation as a result of being defamed on Twitter, it likely that we can help you seek redress through defamation laws.

If the damage you suffer is emotional, because you are being harassed, threatened or even blackmailed with actual tweets or with threats that future internet posts will follow, we will most likely employ harassment law and privacy law to ensure that harassing information and/or private information about you is not being disseminated on Twitter or Instagram or via other social media.

Defamation on Twitter can often occur as a deliberate act by the defendant who tweets their own original defamatory comments on Twitter or by third parties who might simply re-tweet the defamation. When defamation on Twitter is deliberate, it often also constitutes harassment, because in most cases the intention of the defendant is to cause the victim of the defamation, alarm and distress.

Often, we are asked, how many tweets and how many followers are required to establish a case of defamation. The answer is that there isn’t a magic number of tweets or Twitter followers that is required to prove defamation. Although, broadly speaking, the more followers the offending tweeter has, the higher the likelihood of reputational damage. Remember, however, that there is no need for any followers to exist in order to cause you reputational damage on Twitter because a defamatory tweet could very easily be found by a potential employer, a recruitment agent or by clients who look you up on Twitter. The number of followers might, therefore, be relevant. 

Sometimes, the Twitter followers are part of a small niche or a distinct group of people whose opinion of you, as the victim of Twitter defamation, is material to you. When it comes to harassment on Twitter, the number of followers or potential reader of the defamatory and harassing tweets might be low but this makes hardly any difference because the two most important factors to establish harassment on Twitter are your knowledge of the existence of the harassing or defamation tweets and the intention of the defendant to harass or defame.

In terms of outcomes, it makes a little difference whether you bring a case for defamation or for harassment as the remedies are more or less the same. These include removal of the defaming/harassing tweets, an apology, public or private, damages and an injunction to ensure the tweeter doesn’t repeat their defamatory or harassing activities against you.

Generally speaking, cases under harassment law tend conclude quicker than cases under defamation law.

Cases where the tweeter is anonymous are common so we have developed a quick route to obtaining disclosure orders against Twitter who has nearly always provided us with highly useful disclosure information about the Twitter user who posted defamation or who has harassed our client.

What to do if you have been defamed or harassed on Twitter

1. Seek legal advice as soon as possible. You can contact us 24/7.

2. Act quickly to preserve relevant evidence. At this stage don’t necessarily block the harasser.

3. Responding is hardly ever a good idea, for a number of reasons. First, you might think that you have a case for defamation but your case might actually be for harassment or for breach of privacy or even criminal blackmail. Victims of harassment are not expected to communicate with their harassers because this tends to induce more harassing activities by the harasser.

Second, you might need access to the evidence later on or an easy way to serve legal documents on the twitter. Third, by responding to the harassing tweets or by blocking the tweeter, you are likely to lose the element of surprise. And fourth by engaging with the twitter you may undermine any claim you have or be blamed for encouraging the tweeter’s activities.

4. Preserve the evidence. Simple screenshots of the Twitter or Instagram accounts might be insufficient. Everything needs to be date stamped, preferably saved as PDF. We suggest that you let your solicitor do this for you but make sure you act quickly.

5. Create your own evidence by capturing on paper any verbal references people have made to the offending tweets.

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