It has been reported in the news recently, that Kevin Pietersen has accepted undisclosed but “substantial” damages from Specsavers over an advert that ran during the Ashes earlier this year.
Specsavers have apologised for running the advert which featured a photograph of Kevin Pietersen with the strap line “Bat tampering’ in the #Ashes? Apparently Hot Spot should’ve gone to Specsavers.”
No doubt, it was likely to have been intended to have been lighthearted humour by Specsavers, amidst allegations by an Australian broadcast station that players were trying to deceive hotspot. These allegations were vehemently denied by Pietersen and the other England players.
However, following a legal action, Specsavers accepted that Pietersen did not behave in the manner inferred from the advert and stated that it never intended to imply that Pietersen may have tampered with his bat.
The advert ran by Specsavers was also rolled out on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The legal argument laid down by Specsavers was that there was never any intention to defame Pietersen. However, in line with previous case law, the Court has found that ‘intent’ does not affect whether words have a defamatory meaning, as clarified in the recent case of Lord McAlpine v Sally Bercow.
Mr Justice Tugendhat in this case confirmed that words may be ¬defamatory in whatever form they are used. A question, or a rhetorical question, or any other form of words may, in principle, be understood to convey a defamatory meaning. His Judgment provided useful guidance on social media and how long established legal principles will apply.
This latest development in the law of defamation, once again highlights the risks associated with the use of Twitter and other popular social media sites. As in the McAlpine case, ill considered tweets sent out quickly can be damaging to a reputation.
The legal position of an individual or company posting content on line, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or even individual pages, makes it clear that he or she is responsible for that content.
Libel law exists to protect reputations and it is therefore an offence to communicate defamatory remarks in any situation where that communication takes some form of permanence.
Twitter users therefore, should give careful consideration as to whether a tweet is true and/or private before posting on line. However, adhering to such caution should also be balanced against the right of a person to exercise a freedom of expression.
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