Lord McAlpine, Wronged By BBC, Demands 10,000 People On Twitter Pay Up

from the mcalpine-effect dept

Folks in the UK have spent much of this month following the story of Lord McAlpine (Robert Alistair McAlpine) the former politician who worked for Margaret Thatcher. Earlier this month, the BBC reported on its Newsnight program that an unnamed former "senior" politician in the UK government was implicated in a child abuse scandal. People on Twitter quickly assumed from the description that it was McAlpine, and the story spread quickly. A few days later, the Guardian broke the story that it was a case of mistaken identity. That scandal has thrown the BBC into chaos over its reporting.

But, more interesting to us, is the fact that Lord McAlpine (not a Twitter user) has announced his intention to go after 10,000 Twitter users for either claiming he was the person in question or for retweeting someone else saying that. Some have already apologized for their tweets, but even among those who have, they claim that McAlpine's lawyers are going to ridiculous lengths, with one person, Sally Bercow, who has apologized, also claiming that McAlpine's lawyers are "ambulance chasers" and "big bullies."

But the decision to force 10,000 people to pay up seems crazy:
Lawyers acting for Lord McAlpine have also drawn up a "very long list" of targets they intend to pursue for defamation, including the authors of 1,000 original tweets and a further 9,000 individuals who retweeted those messages.
Apparently if you're "small time" you won't have to pay as much:
Lord McAlpine's solicitor, Andrew Reed, said last night that those with under 500 followers will be asked to make a donation to charity as part of a settlement, with an "administration fee" for sorting it out. He added that higher profile figures, such as Ms Bercow, are "a separate matter".
Here's the insane part: McAlpine claims that he's doing this to "restore my reputation." Demanding 10,000 people on Twitter pay up isn't going to "restore" your reputation. It's going to tarnish it. Yes, it's pretty clear that McAlpine was wronged by the initial reports that suggested he was involved in the scandal. And the BBC is paying up handsomely for their mistake (apparently a six figure settlement has already been negotiated). But the news that the BBC's report was false spread like wildfire. Everyone knows the report was false. Going after people on Twitter for talking about it doesn't do anything more to restore his reputation, it just makes him look like a giant bully -- and, in the process, calls much more attention to him and his tactics here.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Kelly (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 1:40pm

    Going after 10,000 people is a little excessive. I could see him going after journalists who really should have known better and known to wait for confirmation before tweeting out things but 10,000 people is insane.

     

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  2.  
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    Do_The_Math (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 1:47pm

    Reading into Things....

    Lord McAlpine is the author of:
    The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business,
    The Ruthless Leader: Three Classics of Strategy and Power, &
    The Servant.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    New tweets

    So I heard that McAlpine dude isn't a child abuser, but he sure is an Asshat and a publicity abuser...

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 1:59pm

    Maybe he thinks he can buy back his reputation?

     

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  5.  
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    Mark Townsend, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    Different Interpretations of 'Reputation'

    I suspect that the people in whose minds Lord McAlpine wants his reputation restored are not the Twitterati (or indeed anyone with any gadget more sophisticated than a gramophone).

    Whether he succeeds with this mass action remains to be seen but the fact that he is trying has raised both his profile and his reputation with a not insignificant percentage of the population. If he does succeed, even partially, his street cred will go off the charts.

    Is this a cultural thing? I do not know but given the media goings on we have been having and that we continue to have, seeing someone stand up to a wave of "I can say what I want and no-one can stop me" is getting him quite a bit of support and not only from the old duffers brigade.

    He is also using the opportunity to publicise some rather prominent people who have participated in the feeding frenzy. Sally Bercow for one may regret her "me too" tweets and the comments about the lawyers. (I do not think that a non UK audience can possible grasp the shock of the wife of the Speaker of the House (a title going back to 1377) being so intent on having her say in public).

    Context? Today we hear that the ex Head of Communications for David Cameron and the woman who was Murdoch's top operative are both getting done on bribery charges and the Levenson report is due out very soon.

     

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  6.  
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    Boojum, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:02pm

    Reverse Streisand Effect

    You know, I can think of no faster way for him to clear his name with his voters than to go after 10,000 tweeters and let the Streisand effect tell everyone that he's not a pedophile. Remember, he's not trying to remove the tweets or squash a website.. he's wanting everyone to know and (more importantly) remember that these people were wrong about him.

    Sueing them and letting everyone talk about it is probably cheaper than taking out ads all over the place to try and convince people it wasnt' him.

     

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  7.  
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    Jason Still (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:06pm

    What if...

    What if one of the people he goes after turns out to be a minor? If we agree that he's being "abusive" by going after all these people, and one of them is a "child", could you argue that no defamation took place because he is, in fact, involved in a "child abuse scandal"?

     

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  8.  
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    Duke (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

    A few points

    There's some fun stuff in this story, but I have to be careful so as not to defame Lord McAlpine or his solicitors (who are apparently specialists in physical injury/compensation cases - the pejorative term for whom is "ambulance chasers").

    However, this is what I think I can say:

    First point. Twitter users had already named him as the suspect before Newsnight aired, which is why it is just about believable that the BBC could be liable (iirc I read something on Reddit about it that afternoon).

    Second point. His Lordship has already recovered 185,000 plus costs from the BBC. At least one expert in defamation law reckons that was about double what they owed.

    Third point. Under English defamation law, while each "publication" (so each tweet and retweet) counts, and each has its own maximum damage award of 275,000ish, the damages are meant to be compensatory (for his loss in reputation). Given his well-reported denial and the subsequent high-profile apologies, it is hard to imagine what his actual loss is.

    Fourth point. Even if his reputation has been damaged (and not just for being brave/naive enough to try to sue 10,000 Twitter users, while not noticing Facebook, Reddit and anywhere else...), he can only recover that much in total, which means any damages award from those 10,000 can take into account the 185,000 he has already received (or the 500,000 he is rumoured to be getting from ITV).

    Plus there's a general rule that the courts don't care about trivial/"de minimis" cases. Which is particularly relevant as there is a suggestion that he will be asking these 10,000 for a 5 donation to charity.

    Sadly, he may well get that. Not because his case deserves it (which he may or may not), but because the threat of legal action (particularly defamation cases) and the associated massive costs, tend to be enough to scare people into conceding.

     

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  9.  
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    andrew, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:20pm

    The fact that an already rich old man will made a shed load of money whilst the real victims of child abuse get nothing is perhaps the saddest thing.

     

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  10.  
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    Do_The_Math (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:28pm

    Board of Trustees at BBC's Children in Need

    Children in Need is a BBC Run Charity. What will be the funding allocation to the salaries of the Board of Trustees, including the current BBC Director General?

     

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  11.  
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    Milton Freewater, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Reverse Streisand Effect

    "You know, I can think of no faster way for him to clear his name with his voters than to go after 10,000 tweeters and let the Streisand effect tell everyone that he's not a pedophile. Remember, he's not trying to remove the tweets or squash a website.. he's wanting everyone to know and (more importantly) remember that these people were wrong about him. "

    Only a guilty man would try to force radio silence on the entire Internet when pedophilia is concerned.

    If it's illegal to retweet a crime story about the good Lord that happened to be false, the only way to ensure you're compliant with the law is to never discuss crimes of any kind online. And the good Lord wants that because he's ... innocent?

     

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  12.  
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    gorehound (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:48pm

    Lord McAlpine I saw you buggering a 13 year old Boy !
    make that 10,001 people.

     

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  13.  
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    Travis, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:49pm

    If there was ever a reason...

    If there was ever a reason not to move to the UK, their incredibly asinine idea of free speech and rampant censorship would definitely top my list. Good god, say one wrong thing and you'll have a mob ready to hang you if they deem it obscene or offensive.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 2:59pm

    Re: If there was ever a reason...

    Funny you say that, but claim one person is a paedophile and there's a mob ready to hang them or worse without any further questioning.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 4:08pm

    It also makes sure that those idiots think before tweeting random crap. Being on the internets apparently removed the thought process from lots of individuals.

     

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  16.  
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    Jake, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 4:55pm

    The worst part is that the interviewee has stated that he picked out his abuser from a lineup of photographs, and was told by the attending police officer that the person he identified was Lord McAlpine. This was a barefaced lie. This has been almost entirely ignored in favour of attacking the BBC.

     

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  17.  
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    jameshogg (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 5:42pm

    I refuse to take seriously the English libel system, especially when it allows Roman Polanski to sue Vanity Fair from France via video link on the grounds that a few of its copies that hit the U.K., through Amazon/Ebay/something-else-unpolicable, suggested that he had invoked his dead wife's name in order to flirt with a woman, all while avoiding U.S. extradition for child sex offences and all supposedly, get this, in the name of the just cause of "protecting his reputation".

    The poison pen argument does have some merit to it, but the U.S. libel system is far superior to the English libel system. And I am not entirely sure how you would go around policing something that can go viral such as this case here. How is it realistic to get your every day Twitter user to not have any libellous presupposition in his internet chat whatsoever? Even a casual comment voiced the wrong way might be up for grabs by the courts. Indeed, I would contend that if such logic were to be put forward about 10,000 Twitter users, then newspapers and websites who reproduce MILLIONS of printed items should be thrown in jail if they even so much as quote words from a Tweeter that were deemed to be "highly offensive" enough for prison. Because even by merely quoting the words, they have to fall under the category of "passing on the offensiveness", right?

    The condition of keeping your libel lawsuits against the originator of the false claim, not the reproducers, may be a much better solution. I've read protests against this idea on the BBC that went along the lines of "Twitter isn't just your casual pub-banter - it is a public platform. It has to fall under the same terms as a mass media journalistic platform." Oh yeah? Just wait until that casual banter you could be having with your closest friend while walking down the street at night, potentially drunk, is recorded by somebody on a camera phone, intentionally or not, racks up millions of viral views on YouTube, and forces a lawsuit on your hands. Don't you tell me that state mentality will not fall into the slippery slope of "well, I guess you have to watch what you say everywhere then.. those drunken yobs, eh?".

     

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  18.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 6:56pm

    Re: A few points

    I keep hearing from the back of my mind this little birdy tweet out this word that keeps getting louder and louder in reference to this "Lord of Effluence".

    At first I thought it was bullshit, then It formed itself into the real word.

    Barratry

    though being one of those Aussie upstart colonialist I'd still say Bullshit also fits this Toff. ;)

     

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  19.  
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    Donnicton, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 7:12pm

    Re:

    Besides, there's something called the SPEECH Act, Lord Alpine may want to get acquainted with it.

     

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  20.  
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    DS, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Re: Reverse Streisand Effect

    So, he should be OK when people call him a child molester?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 8:16pm

    Something to ask

    Say reputable "Magazine A" published something defaming to somebody Z, one or two days later "Magazine B" to "D" blindly copied the news from "A" without verifying the source.

    Now Z wants to sue. He can surely sue "Magazine A" for defamation, but how about B, C and D?

    The thing about Twitter is that it carrys some sort of publishing functionality. I think this kind of analogy could work.

    Note that some twitter accounts have higher "reputation ranking" than the others, so when estimating the "damage" part of defamation, these Twitter accounts have arguably higher impact than some traditional magazines.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 8:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Reverse Streisand Effect

    Me thinks he doth protest too much.

    He may not be what they said he was but he is a jerk nonetheless.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2012 @ 8:45pm

    I think this is just a money laundering scheme. It's brilliant - give dirty money to your lawyers, then get the money back by suing 10,000 people for ridiculous reasons.

     

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  24.  
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    The eejit (profile), Nov 20th, 2012 @ 11:42pm

    Re: Reverse Streisand Effect

    Here's the thing, though: the person it was claimed that he'd abused that made the biggest headlines had said it was a case of mistaken identity.

    I think there's marginally more fo a case here than there has been in pretty much any other case like this we've seen so far. I still don't think it would get anywhere, but I think that this is one where the case is more "correct".

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 1:16am

    When online identity is fully linked, the 5 pounds will be deducted automatically from your bank account.

     

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  26.  
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    Donglebert the Needlessly Obtuse, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 2:51am

    Re: A few points

    Given that people either had never heard of him or thought he was dead, then one would question whether he had any reputation outside of political circles to lose.

     

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  27.  
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    Donglebert the Needlessly Obtuse, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 2:54am

    Re: If there was ever a reason...

    at least they're not likely to shoot you.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 5:44am

    This is exactly the reason why the modern media witch trials should be avoided. Especially in old, cold cases, such as these.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 6:16am

    OH Lordy!

    Lord Who?

    I have never heard of this guy, so....What reputation?

    Ask me if I care...go ahead, ask me...will someone ask?

     

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  30.  
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    avideogameplayer, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 9:06am

    How many of those 10,000 users are US citizens? I'd like to see him squeeze any money from them...

     

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  31.  
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    peter, Nov 21st, 2012 @ 10:46am

    Re: Reverse Streisand Effect

    Agree. The publicity generated is worth many times more than any amount of strident denials.

    If one of them is a minor..?.......good. Teach them and their parents about responsible use of technology. Its child abuse? Idiot.

     

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  32.  
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    Alex Macfie, Nov 22nd, 2012 @ 2:34am

    Re: Re: Reverse Streisand Effect

    So if someone denies an allegation over something seriously defamatory such as child abuse, and tries to prevent others from repeating the allegation, that implies they are guilty does it? If Lord McAlpine had been silent, people like you would probably be arguing the that showed his guilt as well. That sort of humpty-dumpty thinking, where anything about the accused is taken as evidence of guilt, is unfortunately very common in matters of child abuse allegations. People are even capable of inferring guilt in the same case from directly contradictory evidence. It means you can't win.

     

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  33.  
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    Alex Macfie (profile), Nov 22nd, 2012 @ 3:05am

    Re: OH Lordy!

    He is a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher (when she was British PM), and a prominent Tory Party politician, but now retired.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    Does everyone dissed online get to collect a dollar a twitter?

    https://twitter.com/ZOO/status/271545777988464640

     

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  35.  
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    Xan Tok, Nov 22nd, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Compensation

    I believe a majority of libel compensation is for loss of earnings due to malicious rumour. If Lord McAlpine had been a 29 year old teacher with two kids and a mortgage, facing job suspension, loss of earnings even social services monitoring then I can see where thousands come in handy, but this is an already very wealthy man who is not in fnancial hardship over this. Charity donation is about the noblest outcome I can see but I am detecting a backlash rising over this. Also people begging to ask why police are being expected to find all these tweeters if his lawyers web sweeper software was so powerful why do they need police back up and is this fair the tax payer has to fund this police action?

     

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  36.  
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    Xan Tok, Nov 22nd, 2012 @ 2:55pm

    Why Twitter and not Facebook?

    Some have asked why Lord McAlpine seems too Twitter centric in his attack on defamers. Twitter is a public unit, what you say goes out, unlike Facebook which is a closed network of friends. Also Facebook allows wider scope to discuss the case, a group of friends are more likely to have a close discussion than a string of strangers on twitter who as I have seen, often use the media to enforce and reinforce a point without negotiation. Facebook discussions within a person's private page presents a bigger problem that the exposed and public twitter. A person had a human right to discuss in privacy their news and views just as people have privacy within their own home to hold a view unchallenged. Your Facebook page, in which your statements are not public, is your castle and not to be pried into..

     

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  37.  
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    ThinkingOutLoud, Nov 23rd, 2012 @ 2:59am

    Confuse a Lord

    McAlpines ambulance chasers can be easily confused if people decide to play dirty. Whats to stop people sending in names and addresses picked randomly rom the phone book admitting to tweets they did not make. His ambulance chasers then end up sending threatening letters to people lots of whome probably werent even on twitter. They woudl be up in arms and the whoel ambulance chasing fisaco will look ridculous and wil be unworkable. Just thinking.

     

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