Associate Debra Burton from our Disputes Team gives her take on this latest legal update:

As “internet trolling” looks set to become a criminal offence, this is not the only remedy that victims may have as a result of defamatory posts and tweets which will also amount to libel. The nature of the internet means that the click of a mouse can communicate a defamatory statement instantly to thousands of people throughout the world and can pose a serious threat to the reputation of an individual or company. It is not just the individual who can be held liable for the defamatory statement but all those involved which can include internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, website design companies and companies who use the internet for sales or marketing purposes.

The Defamation Act 2013 looks to specially deal with defamatory statements on the internet and seeks to bring the focus back on the original posters of the alleged defamatory statements. If defamation is proved on the balance of probabilities, a lower test than that required in the criminal courts, then the court can order the defendant to pay damages to compensate the victim for their distress and any loss flowing from the libel as well as vindicating the claimant's reputation. When determining the level of damages to be awarded, the court will consider injury to the claimant’s feelings, the gravity of the libel, the extent and nature of the publication and whether there are any mitigating factors. The court can also award additional damages to reflect the extra hurt caused by the defendants behaviour. Given that “trolling” seems to be a deliberate act designed to injure the victim, in addition to the criminal record, so called “internet trolls” may end up paying thousands of pounds in damages and costs.