The case

Due to the celebrity status of Hopkins, the facts of the case have been widely reported in the news and the papers over the weekend. In a nutshell, the case surrounds two tweets sent by Hopkins to Monroe. Monroe has alleged that the tweets sent by Hopkins accused her of vandalising a war memorial or indeed suggested that she approves/condones such behaviour. It has been reported that Hopkins argued that Twitter was the social media equivalent of the Wild West and, as such, anything goes.

Following a contested trial, Mr Justice Warby, the recently appointed presiding judge of the new Media and Communication List in the High Court, ruled that the serious harm threshold had been satisfied and stated that “the tweets complained of have a tendency to cause harm to the claimant’s reputation in the eyes of third parties, of a kind that would be serious for her”. The serious harm threshold was introduced by the Defamation Act 2013 to act as a gateway against frivolous claims. However, this is one of the first cases to apply the new threshold to Twitter. Our previous e-briefing on the serious harm threshold addresses what constitutes “serious harm” and can be found here.

Our view

This case is further evidence of the emergence of a new arena for litigation and organisations of all shapes and sizes need to ensure that they are alive to the risks involved in using social media. In a matter of minutes, Hopkins sent two tweets that have ended up costing her £24,000 in damages and an interim costs order of over £100,000. It has been speculated that when combining the damages award, the amount Hopkins will have to pay in contribution to Monroe’s legal costs and her own legal costs, Hopkins could be facing a total bill of around £300,000. An expensive few minutes by anyone's standards!

We cannot forget that social media has become one of the key avenues of communication between organisations, their customers and the wider public and that there are clear benefits of using social media for this purpose. With an ever-shifting preference by customers to communicate via social media, an organisation that doesn't maximise their use of social media could be left behind.

However, as this case has highlighted, there are also risks involved with a communication medium that provides an instant platform for the whole world to see.

It is important that organisations continue to manage the risk, as they do across their entire business, attributable to their interaction with social media. Our previous e-briefing on managing risk with social media can be found here.

In light of this recent case, it would be advisable to review any social media policies and procedures your organisation has, including staff policies, to ensure that it is clear what messages are communicated, and who is authorised to communicate them via social media. This case highlights the potential consequences of a misguided or misaddressed tweet, and organisations should take note to ensure that they are protected against a similar fate.

For more information

Should you wish to speak with us about how your organisation currently manages their use of social media or wider reputational risk, please contact Cynyr Rhys. If you would like further information about the work that we do, please visit our website.