The decision by Google, Facebook and Twitter – three of the main players in the social networking phenomenon – to set up their European bases in Dublin may backfire on them, a leading libel lawyer has warned. The problem, it seems, is that they may be open to EU defamation and privacy laws thanks to their location. Abuse using online media such as Facebook is rife, and the belief is that lawyers will be able to sue the companies on behalf of individuals who have been harassed by anonymous people.
Paul Tweed, a Belfast based expert in libel law, is the man who has made the warnings, and he believes that there is potential for serious problems ahead. His firm has been involved in action against bloggers and tweeters who have abused politicians and celebrities online, and he also warns that the law will not only be directed at the individuals, but at the companies hosting their comments.
Take Down Notices
Tweed, who has represented the likes of Hollywood actor Harrison Ford and Jennifer Lopez, explained the process:
“We will send a ‘take down’ notice to either Google, Facebook or Twitter and we get various responses. Two or three years ago our demands for ‘take down’ notices were largely ignored by the likes of Google who are based in Seattle and could quote us back the American constitution. In those days we used to tell our clients ‘look, even if we get a judgment we are not going to be able to enforce it’. Because US courts would not enforce them and our clients basically had to turn the other cheek.”
He went on to explain that things are very different now:
“Now the whole landscape has changed. The massive game-changer is that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google have established European headquarters in Dublin and in doing that they have subjected themselves not only to Irish defamation and privacy laws but also those EU laws on libel and privacy. That means they are potentially a target because they are providing anonymous abusers on line with a platform.”