The Risks of Social Media and the Value of an Apology

19 September, 2018

I'm sorry Sign

It was reported by The Guardian newspaper this weekend that controversial commentator Katie Hopkins has had to take steps to avoid bankruptcy following her costly libel case in 2017.

 

 

Ms. Hopkins was found to have defamed food writer Jack Monroe by falsely implying that Monroe supported the defacement of war memorials by protestors. It was reported that Monroe offered to settle the dispute before proceedings were issued if Ms. Hopkins issued an apology and made a small donation to charity.

 

The offer of settlement was rejected and a costly court case ensued, the outcome of which was an order that Ms. Hopkins pay £24,000 in damages and substantial legal costs.

 

The Hopkins case highlights not only the risks of misusing social media but also the high cost of failing to apologise early on when a mistake has been made.

 

An Apology

Most libel cases are settled before a claim is issued but if settlement is not possible and a claim is issued, as a defendant it’s still possible to make an ‘Offer of Amends’ before you file a defence. If accepted, the effect of the Offer is to bring an end to defamation proceedings. If not accepted, the Offer will provide a complete defence to a libel claim.

 

An Offer of Amends is made on the basis that you’ve made an innocent mistake in a statement you’ve made and you don’t wish to defend the claim.

 

It must be an offer to:

  • Make and publish a suitable correction and sufficient apology;
  • Pay compensation; and
  • Pay legal costs to the aggrieved party.

 

Conclusion

The 2017 Katie Hopkins libel case is a salient reminder of the potential damage that can be done in only 2 tweets of 140 characters.

 

Social media is a minefield of potential liability; the relative ease with which comments are made gives a false impression of content lacking seriousness, however even ‘throwaway’ comments can inflict considerable harm and incur liability for the author.

 

2 lessons from the Hopkins case:

  • Think twice before tweeting on an issue that has the potential to cause considerable harm, because the price of getting it wrong is a high one; and
  • There is a clear advantage in being able to say, “I’m sorry” early on. It may be costly to reach settlement but not as costly as defending a libel claim to trial.

 

Further reading

If you wish to know more, or to speak to us about how we could help you, you will find further guidance and our contact details on our page: Protecting your Reputation which now includes a Guidance Note on responding to a Defamation Claim.