A British judge's decision that a tweet by Sally Bercow (wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow) libeled Lord Robert Alistair McAlpine (former Deputy Chairman and Party Treasurer of the Conservative Party and an aide to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) shows -- if anyone still had doubts -- that tweets can indeed be libelous. In doing so, the ruling provides a good model for analyzing Twitter posts to determine whether they are defamatory.
The case stemmed from a Nov. 2, 2012, BBC report on alleged sexual abuse at a foster care home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. A victim of the abuse alleged that one the abusers was a "leading Conservative from the time." The abuser was also referred to as "a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years," "a senior public figure," "a shadowy figure of high political standing," and "a prominent Tory politician at the time." While the BBC report did not name the alleged abuser, the identity of the alleged abuser was leaked to the political editor of Britain's Channel 4, who tweeted that the alleged abuser -- also without identification -- denied the claims.
But speculation was rampant on social media, with many naming Lord McAlpine as the alleged abuser. Bercow's tweet, "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*," was sent two days after the BBC report aired. read more »