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Stewart White SolicitorThere has been a recent surge in people being prosecuted for what they serve up on the internet in less than 140 characters.  The judiciary has finally got round to extending the long arm of the law to the internet blogosphere where those who think they can defame with anonymity have found themselves in the dock.

One of the most publicised cases of late involved the Conservative peer Lord McAlpine who found himself trending after being falsely accused of sex offences.  This was initiated after Newsnight led with a story of an unnamed Tory Peer who was being accused of being a paedophile.  All it seemed to take was one person naming Lord McAlpine and hordes of lemmings followed.  However, Lord McAlpine was wrongly accused and accordingly, set about locking horns with those who had accused him using Twitter or merely retweeted what others posted. Thankfully, for most of those users, he only went after those who had in excess of 500 followers.  He settled for substantial sums against Newsnight for the initial piece he is apparently still in pursuit of Twitter users, one of whom being Sally Bercow the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons ,who has in excess of 56,000 followers.

Contempt of Court is another crime being committed on the Twittersphere.  Only this week, we have read about social media users circulating images of child killer Jon Venables.  There is a ban on publishing anything that reveals the identity of Jon Venables and his partner in crime, Robert Thomson.  The purpose of the ban is to protect those two from vigilante attacks affording them a new start in life with new identities. 

Footballers and other celebrities are known to have taken out injunctions and super injunctions banning media from publishing details of their sordid affairs. However, the strength of these injunctions was put to the test in the recent case involving Ryan Giggs after his name was leaked, it was all over Twitter indeed, the super injunction only extended to Hadrian’s Wall and a picture of Giggs appeared in the Scottish Sunday Herald in or around the same time after where nothing could be done about this. These injunctions are less likely to be pursued in future.

A total of 653 people faced criminal charges in England and Wales last year in connection with comments on Twitter and Facebook.  Perhaps because these sites are most popular is the reason they draw so much attention. However I see people defamed on football fans forums on a not infrequent basis.  I think that is the thin end of a much larger wedge, people should be weary about what they say, about who they say it about and where they say it. And neither is it a good idea to fire up the internet when one has had one too many sherbets!  

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