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Jack Monroe (food blogger) has been successful in a claim for defamation against Katie Hopkins (now MailOnline columnist) in respect of two tweets published by Ms Hopkins. Defamation is something that adversely affects a person's reputation. On 10 March 2017 Ms Hopkins was ordered by Mr Justice Warby at the High Court to pay £24,000.00 in damages and an initial figure of £107,000.00 towards costs with a final figure to be assessed. ( EWHC 433 (QB)).
In May 2015 Katie Hopkins mistook Jack Monroe for journalist Laurie Penny who had tweeted in relation to the vandalising of a war memorial. Ms Hopkins’ first tweet stated “@MsJackMonroe scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?” to which Ms Monroe subsequently tweeted requesting a public apology and a charitable donation. Ms Hopkins did not respond with an apology but deleted the first tweet and later tweeted “Can someone explain to me – in 10 words or less – the difference between irritant @PennyRed and social anthrax @MsJackMonroe”.
The case is significant as it is one of the few cases in which the “serious harm” test under the Defamation Act 2013 has been applied by the court and it is the first time the test has been applied in respect of Twitter. Under Section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 a statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.
It was held that the tweets were defamatory as they bore the meaning that Ms Monroe condoned and approved of scrawling on war memorials and vandalising monuments commemorating those who fought for her freedom. The requirement of serious harm was satisfied as “the tweets complained of have a tendency to cause harm to this claimant’s reputation in the eyes of third parties, of a kind that would be serious for her”. When considering whether serious harm of Ms Monroe’s reputation had been caused Mr Justice Warby considered the amount of followers that may have seen the tweets, Ms Hopkins’ credibility as a columnist and the abuse received by Ms Monroe as a result of the tweets.
Despite Ms Hopkins’ representative referring to Twitter as the ‘Wild West’ of social media which is not as authoritative as national newspapers, the decision in this case exemplifies that publications on social media will be treated the same as any other publication when applying the principles under the Defamation Act 2013.
Katie Hopkins defended herself on an online chat show on 18 March 2017 stating that "After two and a half hours I realised the tweet was wrong, so I deleted it. Then I made a formal retraction that said 'I was wrong' using the Twitter handle that her solicitors gave me. So I thought that was enough.” Ms Hopkins has previously hinted that she intends to appeal the decision…. So watch this space!