Perils of social media delegation

Businesses with social media accounts being run by staff delegated to the task should take heed of the case of Monir v Wood [2018] EWHC 3525 (QB).

This case makes interesting reading, as the person sued for the publication of a defamatory tweet was not the author. This was not a case which considered vicarious liability, rather the primary liability of someone who set up social media accounts but delegated publication of content to another to send on their behalf and to their benefit.

Mr Monir, a youth worker who was falsely accused by the local UKIP Bristol branch’s Twitter account of being involved in grooming gangs, was awarded £40,000 in damages by the High Court.

Mr Justice Nicklin found that Mr Wood, the then chair of the local Bristol UKIP party was liable for a defamatory tweet written and posted by Mr Langley, who was vice chairman of Bristol Ukip at the time, but “clearly acting as the agent of Mr Wood when he was posting material on the Bristol Ukip Twitter”. The tweet in question was found to be a “completely false and highly damaging allegation”.

Despite the tweet being seen by relatively few people, this case affirms that even though some viewers will know immediately it to be untrue, such a tweet is capable of meeting the 'serious harm' test established by the 2013 Defamation Act.

The judge found that the gravity of the allegation 'puts it to the top end of seriousness', compounded by Wood's 'intransigence and his refusal publicly to apologise'. £40,000 was proportionate to the scale of publication and the 'difficulties of causation' but it was pointed out that had this libel been published in a national newspaper, £250,000 or more could have been justified.

This judgment will have implications for every organisation delegating responsibility for social media accounts. “If you are responsible for letting a maverick genie out of the bottle then you are likely to face the legal consequences – and in the era of fake news that presents a real risk” said Monir's solicitor, Jeremy Clarke-Williams of Penningtons Manches.

Posted on 9 January, 2019 by Ortolan

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