Facebook, Twitter libel claims double; Celebrities still prefer super-injunctions

Libel cases resulting from content posted on social networking sites have doubled in the past year, research suggests.

Statistics compiled by legal firm Sweet and Maxwell suggest that libel cases, resulting from posts on online social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, have doubled in the last year.

Since the rise of super-injunctions in the United Kingdom -- a seemingly alien concept to the vast majority of U.S. citizens, safe in the knowledge of that First Amendment rights protect freedom of speech -- British citizens are not covered in the same way.

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Libel lawyer Korieh Duodo said that those defamed online "often find it time-consuming and difficult to have the offending material removed, because many platform providers do not accept responsibility for their users' content".

He added: "There is certainly a need for greater accountability of the providers of user generated content; a need to tighten the regulatory framework within which they operate."

While in the United States, a printed article is considered to be true until proven otherwise, the laws of the United Kingdom are in reverse; those who publish content must prove it is true before publication, or face strict libel laws.

Not only does this raise issues regarding the open use of social media platforms, but also the 'anonymous culture' still felt online when alleged false statements are made against a person, lawyers say.

But as social networks are at the forefront of the reason behind the new libel cases, many are blaming the tools rather than the people.

Despite the rise in libel claims, seemingly ordinarily brought forward by celebrities, those with status and economic means are opting for the discreet gagging order, rather than the public traditional defamation action.

Super-injunctions are used often by celebrities who can prevent a person or organisation disclosing information about them, whilst at the same time preventing disclosure of the gagging order.

These super-injunctions can, however, be circumvented. Protected under 'parliamentary privilege', the content of super-injunctions can be discussed freely by Members of Parliament, which are protected by immunity when raising issues in session.

Earlier this year, all British citizens and journalists were barred from discussing the super-injunction against soccer player Ryan Giggs, and his affair with an ex-Big Brother contestant.

The problem arises is when social media is used to circumvent the gagging orders, often through anonymous Twitter accounts.

In response to the uprising during the Arab Spring revolutions, also resonated throughout the London riots, and through many other cases when freedom of speech has been threatened, Twitter maintains its standpoint that "the tweets must flow".

A Defamation Bill is currently being debated in Parliament, in a bid to tighten the current libel laws while bolstering freedom of speech.

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