Trea­surer’s Twit­ter suit breaks ground

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - NEWS - All copy pro­vided by Turner Free­man lawyers; turn­er­free­mannsw.com.au

JOE Hockey is the first Aus- tralian politi­cian to suc­cess­fully sue for defama­tion over a tweet, af­ter Fair­fax Media was this month or­dered to pay the Fed­eral Trea­surer $80,000 in dam­ages over the tweet: “Trea­surer for Sale”.

The Fed­eral Court found those so­cial media posts were defam­a­tory as they sug­gested Mr Hockey was en­gaged in cor­rupt con­duct.

The full ar­ti­cles were not defam­a­tory be­cause they pro­vided ex­plana­tory con­text, some­thing that was lost on so­cial media.

The le­gal dan­gers of so­cial media can go far be­yond the words that are pub­lished, to the use of emoti­cons or other tools that give deep mean­ings to mes­sages.

In the UK, a for­mer politi­cian suc­cess­fully sued a prom­i­nent public fig­ure be-

Send your le­gal ques­tions to legal­help@turn­er­free­man.com.au

Tune in to the Chris Smith Af­ter­noon Show on 2GB on Tues­days from 1.30pm where a spe­cial­ist lawyer will be avail­able to take your calls. cause be­cause of the in­clu­sion of the words “in­no­cent face” at the end of an oth­er­wise neu­tral tweet.

That case fol­lowed the broad­cast of al­le­ga­tions on BBC that a “lead­ing Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian from the Thatcher years” was a pe­dophile.

The re­port didn’t name the politi­cian, but so­cial media spec­u­lated that the al­le­ga­tions were about Lord Alis­tair McAlpine.

De­spite be­ing a case of mis­taken iden­tity, within two days Lord McAlpine’s name was “trend­ing” on Twit­ter.

Sally Ber­cow, a public fig­ure who is mar­ried to a se­nior UK politi­cian and has 56,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers, wrote one of these.

It read: “Why is Lord McAlpine’s name trend­ing? *In­no­cent face*”.

Lord McAlpine took le­gal ac­tion, claim­ing the tweet im­plied he was a pe­dophile.

Mrs Ber­cow ar­gued it had been a gen­uine ques­tion.

In the end, the court found that to the or­di­nary so­cial media user, the words “in­no­cent face” con­veyed that the writer was sug­gest­ing Lord Ber­cow was in­deed a pe­dophile.

While tech­nol­ogy may al­low thoughts to be pub­lished in real time and with lit­tle ef­fort, the le­gal risks have never been greater.

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