Bloggers beware — Twitter defamation case settled

The clock is ticking for bloggers who think they are immune from Ireland’s defamation laws and can libel and slag off who they like on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

The first legal case was taken in Ireland by politician and businessman Declan Ganley who was defamed on Twitter last month. Mr Ganley took a case against the blogger in what was believed to be the first legal settlement in the state involving Twitter content.

The accused issued an apology to Mr Ganley on Twitter and reflected his regret by way of a substantial donation to the Poor Clare Sisters, a charity nominated by Mr Ganley.

This is a serious warming to Twitter users who mistakenly believe they are operating outside the realms of the country’s defamation laws when they make disparaging remarks of a personal nature on the social media forum.

There has been a lot of commentary of late about online bullying and it is great to see a case successfully concluded. While the web and its online forums, when used appropriately and as initially intended, are hugely beneficial to the communication process, they should never be exploited by thugs and bullies hiding behind obscure user names and online profiles, or those who are not afraid to post comments using their real names. But be warned. The Defamation Act is there to protect people’s good character and reputation and while debate is good, it should never descend to a level that unfairly or unjustly attacks a person’s good name.

It’s not the first time this column has discussed this issue, but since then so much has happened in our small isle to intensify the pressure on the powers that be to safeguard anyone using the internet from bullying and threats or intimidation.

The Lord McAlpine case in England has served as a wake-up call for many Twitter users who post libellous content online. The former Tory Party treasurer is taking legal action against 20 tweeters who wrongly identified him as a child abuser.

This week a video featuring a drunk Irish teenager bragging about her father’s lucrative job went viral. Despite the girl’s misguided comments, it is obvious she was taunted and teased by the person recording her on his smartphone until her friends eventually bungled her out of the Dublin fast-food outlet.

The internet is fast moving and remorseless.

It is being used as a tool to taunt and tease, bully, and abuse. Parents of young children and teenagers are finding themselves in dreadful situations whereby they don’t want to limit their access to the internet but they fear for what their charges might be exposed to and are struggling to find a balance between monitoring their children’s online usage and giving them the responsibility to use the internet safely themselves.

The dreadful psychological and social effects of online bullying are devastating the lives of young people the length and breadth of this country.

How many young people took their lives last year in this country as a result of online bullying? There were too many harrowing stories of suicide, self harm, and psychological damage to our nation’s children as a result of online abuse.

And adults are not immune from the effects of this kind of torment either. The tragic death of Minister of State Shane McEntee has been attributed to online bullying among other reasons.

Who is going to call stop on videos of private individuals being uploaded to YouTube without their consent, or private conversations being recorded and used in a similar fashion?

There needs to be some form of monitoring of how smart technology is used before more lives are lost and destroyed.


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