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article imageBritish politician pursues 10,000 Twitter users for libel

By Brian LaSorsa     Nov 27, 2012 in Technology
Lord Alistair McAlpine, an advisor to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has decided to legally pursue 10,000 Twitter users after being falsely accused of sexual child abuse.
The accusations began when the BBC hinted that the next night’s Newsnight program would expose an unnamed, high-ranking Conservative as a child abuser. These subtle reports led the audience to suspect McAlpine as the perpetrator.
McAlpine responded a few days later in an official statement.
“[A] number of ill- or uninformed commentators have [accused] me of being . . . guilty of sexually abusing young residents of a children’s home,” he said. “I must publicly tackle these slurs and set the record straight. In doing so I am by no means giving up my right to sue those who have defamed me.”
Consequently, the investigators’ key witness came forward with a confession: it turns out he identified the wrong man. McAlpine, indeed, was not responsible for attacking him.
All at once, everyone began to take McAlpine’s proposed legal pursuance more seriously.
The BBC decided to settle with McAlpine for about $300,000, and the U.K.-based television network ITV followed suit with settlement exceeding $200,000. However, the former politician is still exacting revenge against Twitter users.
McAlpine’s attorneys are targeting nearly 10,000 people, including 1,000 tweeters and 9,000 retweeters, for fanning the flames created by the BBC. A few well-known users have publicly apologized for the mistaken claims while also criticizing the tactics used by McAlpine’s legal representation.
The Independent reported that obscure users on Twitter would not be shielded from punishment, though. Rather, they’ll be given less severe sentences if they comply.
“[Those] with under 500 followers will be asked to make a donation to charity as part of a settlement,” Ian Burrell wrote, “with an ‘administration fee’ for sorting it out.”
But Mike Masnick at TechDirt claims that McAlpine’s assertion that he wants to clear his name may be entirely detrimental to his overall reputation.
“Demanding 10,000 people on Twitter pay up isn’t going to ‘restore’ your reputation,” Masnick writes. “It’s going to tarnish it. . . . Everyone knows the report was false. Going after people on Twitter for talking about it doesn’t do anything.”
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