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British politician sues 20 popular Twitter users for libel

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About 20 popular Twitter users are being threatened with legal action for implicating a British politician in a sex abuse case.

Lord Alistair McAlpine has already collected £185,000 (about $300,000) from the BBC after it incorrectly implicated the politician in a sex abuse case on a Nov. 2 program. McAlpine will also collect £125,000 ($200,212) from a British ITV broadcaster.

Shortly after the program on the sex abuse case ran on Nov. 2, Twitter exploded with suggestions that McAlpine was guilty of the crime.

“Some 1,000 individuals implicated Lord McAlpine, and a further 9,000 retweeted those messages to a wider audience. The former Conservative Party treasurer called it ‘trial by Twitter,’” the Economist reported. “On November 20th lawyers for the peer informed people with fewer than 500 followers that they can make amends with a donation to charity (the BBC’s Children in Need).”

Twitter users with more than 500 followers—which includes Sally Bercow (the wife of John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons), comedian Alan Davies, and Guardian columnist George Monbiot—will likely face charges, the Guardian reported.

Bercow, who had about 56,000 followers, was implicated after tweeting the following message on Nov. 4.

Bercow later apologized for the tweet: “Final on McAlpine: am VERY sorry for inadvertently fanning flames. But I tweet as me, forgetting that to some of u I am Mrs bloody Speaker.” She deleted her account shortly after, possibly due to an unrelated incident.

Davies and Monbiot have since apologized on Twitter even though it may be too late.

“British libel and defamation laws are notoriously friendly to claimants,” the New York Times reported. “While a planned overhaul would give publishers a bit more protection, the rise of social media like Twitter has vastly expanded the possibilities for libeling someone.”

Illustration by Vectorportal/Flickr; remix by Fernando Alfonso III