Treasurer’s Twitter suit breaks ground
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.