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Wiggin Defamation poll

A survey of the British public on behalf of Wiggin LLP.

Date Published: 14 Dec 2012

Categories: Media | Public and communities | Social | Technology & Telecoms | UK


Two thirds of people think it is fair that Lord McAlpine is able to sue Twitter users

Recent research by Wiggin LLP, a specialist media law firm, has found that
• Nearly two thirds (65%) of people think it is fair that Lord McAlpine can sue Twitter users. This figure drops to 43% in 18-24 year olds, but rises to 82% in the 65+ group.
• Only 54% of 18-24 year olds are aware that they could be sued for defamation if they post an unsubstantiated rumour about someone online
• This is compared to over four fifths (83%) of over 65’s
• Wiggin also asked people if they would consider taking legal action if someone posted an offensive comment about them online and refused to remove it. Over three fifths (61%) of 18-24 year olds say that they would either consider it, or that they don’t know.
• This is still less than 81% of all British adults who say the same, and 88% of over 65s who say that they would consider taking legal action or that they are not sure.

Caroline Kean, leading defamation lawyer and Wiggin Partner, comments: “18-24 year olds have grown up in an online world, where studying, working, and socialising are all heavily reliant on the internet, and where social media as a means of communication is very much the norm. This is why we were surprised to find that, even in light of recent high profile cases, such as that of Lord McAlpine, so few understand the dangers of defamation online.

When you compare age demographics, there is a huge discrepancy in the level of understanding of risk and the legal implications of defamation. Only 54% of young people think they can be sued for posting an untrue rumour about somebody, compared to 83% of over 65s who think the same.
Kean continues: “With more and more people becoming creators of their own content and social commentators, we may well see an increase in defamation claims against younger people who are just not aware of the dangers.

“Even when it comes to their own reputation management, younger people seem to be taking a more relaxed approach than other demographics. However, a significant proportion across all groups, appear willing to take legal action if they feel they have been defamed.
“I can see how litigation in this area may start to become more common and more costly as we see more litigants in person deciding to ‘have a go’. I’ve certainly seen basic defamation cases become lengthy and unnecessarily drawn out with litigants in person. This is likely to become even more costly for defendants if the Leveson proposals for cost shifting and a press-funded arbitration scheme become law. 

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,047 British adults online from 5th to 7th December 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.


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