False Twitter Accusations Face Legal Backlash

November 20, 2012
Elmo?s Exposure. by Mylla, on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License??by??Mylla?
It?s always a serious matter when someone on social media platforms is wrongfully accused of a grave crime, like pedophilia. This is the case in two similar situations in the United States and the United Kingdom. Hopefully, the traumatic results would compel other countries to come up with more laws on free speech for the protection of the wrongfully accused online. In the first issue in the UK, an unidentified ex-politician was said to have abused young boys. The accusation was first made on a BBC television show with hundreds of Twitter users eventually coming up with the name of Lord McAlpine, the retired politician and ex-adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as the guilty party. A number of the derogatory statements were retweeted over 100,000 times on the social network site. The BBC immediately said that the report was untrue and apologized to Lord McAlpine. McAlpine cited how he suffered several terrifying weeks because of undue public hate. The second issue, which happened in the United States, was focused on Kevin Clash, a Sesame Street puppeteer based in New York, who was accused by someone reporting to be the victim of Clash?s sexual advances. The reports against Clash had no factual basis, but Twitter was quickly filled with abusive comments and jokes targeting the New York puppeteer. The said victim changed his story and admitted that he consented to the affair and was no longer a minor at the time. Since Twitter and other social media sites can quickly spread stories regardless of their nature and truth, more stringent online protection laws are in order. In the issue involving Lord McAlpine, he opted for a libel settlement with BBC and is preparing to track the individuals who had retweeted the wrong reports on Twitter. The outcome in the US case involving Kevin Clash is different, since neither he nor Sesame Street planned to file cases against the persons who made the wrongful allegations. Libel laws in the US are quite different from those of the UK. The process is more complicated in the US when it comes to suing individuals on social media sites for derogatory remarks due to the free speech laws. Users in the UK, however, need to be worried about retaliations made by those who have been subject to ridicule and public hatred because of false accusations -- because they can easily sue you. The bottomline? Twitter may be a venue that supports freedom of speech, but if you think what you're about to post is going to lead to someone's ruin, especially if untrue, keep it to yourself.

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