Councillors warned to avoid social media libel pitfalls

Camden Town Hall.

Camden’s councillors have been urged to keep a close eye on their Twitter accounts by the Town Hall’s solicitor.

The advice comes as social media guidelines for borough reps are updated to make councillors aware that they remain legally responsible for libellous posts on their accounts.

This remains the case even if a councillor could prove that a libellous post was not written or personally posted or approved by them.

It follows a ruling at the end of last year in which a former Ukip branch chairman was ordered to pay £40,000 to a man defamed on Twitter, even though he had not personally written the tweet himself. 

Borough solicitor Andrew Maughan said: “This person was sued for libel, irrespective of breaches of the codes of behaviour for councillors, they were sued in civil court.

“A more general piece of advice would be, don’t libel people on social media, or authorise someone to libel on your behalf, is the general thrust of it.

“If your Twitter feed has ‘councillor’ on it, chances are you’re going to be caught, because you’re holding yourself up as a councillor while you do it.”

The Law Gazette reported in December that, even though Ukip chairman Steve Wood had not composed the tweet himself, which pictured a Labour election candidate alongside two men described as ‘child grooming taxi drivers,’ he was still responsible for the ‘serious harm’ proceeding from it.

Cllr Richard Cotton (Lab, Camden Town with Primrose Hill), who chairs the standards committee, said, “It’s good to remind people that social media is not immune to the laws of libel. Even if you retweet somebody else and it’s libellous, you’re publishing a libel, effectively.”