Newspapers Who Relied On Bebo Party Report Sued For Defamation

from the fact-checking?-who-does-that-any-more? dept

Back in May there were a series of stories that made the rounds concerning a British girl who had her 16th birthday party at her parents pricey estate in Spain. The stories, based on the girl’s own account on the social network Bebo claimed that she had posted an invite to various social networks, and tons of people showed up and it turned into a violent drunken mess. In an age of “oh no, look at what those crazy kids are doing on social networks!” reporting, the press had a field day talking about it.

There was just one problem: much of the story was apparently made up by the girl.

Now the mother of the girl is suing six newspapers for writing the story (found via Slashdot). There are a lot of questions raised by this. The woman’s daughter spread the story herself — so if the mother has a complaint, you would think it’s with the daughter. But, at the same time, what kind of newspaper reports on something like that based on a single first-person account of the 16-year-old hosting the party, rather than getting any kind of fact check confirmation?

Still, it seems like some of the questions being drawn from this are going in the wrong direction. The article reports:

The case is expected to have far-reaching consequences for third parties who use or publish information from social networking sites. Lawyers say it could place a duty on all second-hand users to establish the truth of everything they want to republish from such sites. Mrs Hudson not only denies the allegations but accuses the newspapers of misusing information posted by her daughter on the Bebo site, saying there was no legitimate public interest in publishing material from the site. Mrs Hudson says that, because the information was inaccurate, the papers cannot rely on the defence of fair comment.

Her solicitor, David Price, said the case raised important issues of libel, privacy and copyright in relation to the unauthorised use of material taken from social networking sites.

That threatens to be quite chilling. If you can’t republish direct quotes from someone who was at an event, it would seem to be quite stifling. I recognize this is in the UK, which has much stricter libel laws, but it still sounds like it might be going too far. As for the “copyright” claim, that’s the most questionable of all. Claiming that the fact that her daughter’s own account was incorrect means that “fair comment” is no longer allowed is ridiculous. If you’re quoting someone for news purposes, the copyright issue shouldn’t depend on whether or not the person you’re quoting is lying.

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Comments on “Newspapers Who Relied On Bebo Party Report Sued For Defamation”

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PRMan (profile) says:

UK has much STRICTER libel laws???

Have you seen their tabloids, compared to ours? I don’t see how that’s possible.

Anyway, I would hope that unless the reporters somehow broke into a private area, if she reported it on the public internet, I don’t see how she (or her mother, or her lawyer) can say that anyone did anything wrong.

If you don’t want to be infamous, how about getting your daughter to start taking a little responsibility for the family reputation. If not, it’s only a matter of time before she sullies your reputation again, this case notwithstanding.

Jake says:

Re: UK has much STRICTER libel laws???

Unfortunately, enough British people still like reading this kind of drivel that our tabloids have shitloads of money, and can thus afford to hire much better lawyers than anyone except maybe the odd celebrity.
We also have a Press Complaints Commission to investigate such claims, which any competent lawyer will advise a client to go through first. However, it seems as if a tabloid would actually have to drop the euphemisms and weasel words and just run with a headline of ‘If you’re White That’s Alright, If You’re Black Fuck Off Back’ before the PCC would do anything more than dither. And even then I wouldn’t bet on it.

Michal Gajda says:

Press should ALWAYS check up their sources!

This is a good thing. The difference between private blogger and the newspaper is supposed to lie in professionalism.

In most jurisdictions, press are obliged to check their sources. Imagine what a pile of junk we would see in newspapers if they start printing only unconfirmed or blatantly false stories?

wasnt me (user link) says:

i don’t know who merits what in this case, as a matter of fact i don’t care much.

but there must be something done about news papers publishing wrong info (im not talking about this case in particular), the press should be held responsible for what it prints.

as far as the daughters and her parents go id think thats a private matter that shouldn’t be be tied to the newspapers responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Source: Wild party at...

Q: What if the paper clearly identifies the source? Does the responsibility lie with the news organization or the source/sources?

Examples: “Joan Doe, aged 16, reports on Bebo that her birthday party turned into a…”.

“A [unnamed] source close to free agent running back Travis Henry has confirmed he has…” (example from ESPN).

“Sen. Barack Obama is … according to two [again unnamed] sources familiar with the … nominee’s plans.” (example from CNN).

“Our officers took a good whiff and thought they smelled like marijuana,” (police chief) McGuire said… (again CNN).

“An anonymous poster makes a suggestion that making clear of the potentially dubious nature of the source may be used as a defense in a libel lawsuit”.

trollificus says:

I would think if the newspapers clearly identify their sources, no problem…but I don’t think they did so in this case, though, and as the examples cited in the above AC post show, they frequently don’t.

So there’s an element of caveat emptor there, as with ANYTHING YOU SEE IN PRINT ANYWHERE.

Also, Techdirt reports that Trollificus banged Angelina Jolie till her tattoos fell off. Somebody call TMZ!!!!

Parent says:

The girl and her mother (and their lawyer) are after their fifteen minutes of fame.

I not only hope they lose, but I hope they get slapped with the defense’s attorney fees for being stupid and greedy.

If I were the girl’s parent, I’d make the little lying brat make a public apology and I’d apologize too. Her social life would be over and she’d being doing lots and lots of community service because she’s obviously got way too much unsupervised time on her hands.

BRADLEY STEWART (profile) says:


in Congress seem to wind up in the biggest sexual scandals. I’m waiting to see a study on this. I mean these people really have plenty of other important things to do than concentrate their time on this. I will propose a few modest examples. They could spend a lot more time renaming post offices,or perhaps spending more time celebrating the winning seasons of High School Sports Coachs,voting on important issues like National Water Mellon Day. How about this, more three hour eulogy’s for dead Congressman. Come on Folks spend more time on issuse that are really important to the American People like these and we will all be a lot better off.

John (profile) says:

Are you kidding?

But, at the same time, what kind of newspaper reports on something like that based on a single first-person account

Um, do you know this is 2008, where much of society gets much of its celebrity news from one or two people? Do newspapers fact-check what Perez Hilton is saying about Lindsey Lohan or do they just run the story?
What happens if the story is false? Usually nothing, because who really cares about the truth about Lindsey being in or out of rehab this week.

But, when media outlets get into the habit of writing lurid stories based on ONE person’s account, then these kinds of issues are bound to happen.

Besides, the story about a 16-year old girl trashing an estate with a drunken party just has to be true! Who cares about fact-checking it when it sounds great on the news?

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ll have to at least partially backup the person making the suit in this case. What happened to the good old days of at least getting two sources before publishing? To take one person’s report and give it that much distribution was irresponsible. There was no copyright infringement though, pure libel for not checking the facts before “going to press”.

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