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Defamation matters now entirely online – Tweed

peaking at the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s centenary conference in Belfast (23 September), libel lawyer Paul Tweed said that in cases of problematic social-media posts, he has found it very difficult to speak to a counterpart to begin negotiating a settlement.

It’s “virtually impossible” to speak to a human being in tech firms, he said.

This is in sharp contrast to traditional legal practice, he continued, remarking that there are virtually no defamation matters arising nowadays in the mainstream media.

He added that a desire to bring internet giants under control was one thing that united both US Presidents – Trump and Biden.

‘Lots of talk’

“Nothing has happened,” he said, noting that former British PM Boris Johnson also once said that big-tech executives could be subject to criminal liability.

“We have no legislation, but lots of talk about it,” he said.

Taking on massive tech firms in a class action presents an opportunity that younger lawyers should be grasping, in order to display their talents, Tweed commented.

Australia has taken the lead on making social media accountable, Tweed commented, and also has forced tech giants to pay for news content.

Social harm

Australian courts have also confirmed that the online comments sections are the subject of publication liability, he added.

Facebook, Twitter, Google all claim that they are merely a platform and not publishers, despite much social harm being facilitated and disseminated by tech giants, the libel lawyer added.

“All of this presents a massive challenge for the legal profession,” he said, adding that lawyers should be very careful in their use of online tools.

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