Malaysian 100 Apology Tweets, UK Super Injunction and the End of Freewheeling Social Media

Remember that scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Harry is forced to write “I must not tell lies” over and over again on a piece of paper with a magical quill that automatically etches the same words onto the flesh of his hand?

That’s probably how Fahmi Fadzil feels after agreeing to apologize 100 times on Twitter in an unusual settlement with a magazine publisher in a defamation case, as reported by The Associated Press (although the pain would be more to his pride than the physical type Harry had to endure).

Back in January, Fahmi had tweeted that an acquaintance had been poorly treated by Blu Inc Media. He later apologized but Blu Inc Media demanded compensation for defamation and an apology in newspaper. Both parties however settled the case this week with Fahmi agreeing to apologize 100 times with 100 tweets, over three days (starting today). Fahmi has more than 4,200 followers on Twitter.

Recently, a senior executive of Twitter said if “legally required”, the company will turn over information to the UK authorities, in relation to the super injunction, reported by The Telegraph. This came of the heels of the report that Ryan Giggs, an English Premiership footballer, had started legal proceedings in the UK against Twitter and “persons unknown”, after thousands of users revealed on Twitter that he had obtained an injunction to hide an extra-marital affair; the said users breached the injunction by making such revelations online.

Across the pond in the US, a New York appellate court rebuffed an attempt by Sandals Resorts International Ltd. to force Google Inc. to turn over extensive information about a Gmail user. The user allegedly used the Google’s email service to send libelous email. However, the court opined that online communications – emails, blogs and online media:

are often the repository of a wide range of casual, emotive, and imprecise speech, and that the online recipients of [offensive] statements do not necessarily attribute the same level of credence to the statements [that] they would accord to statements made in other contexts.

Generally, when it comes to control on the Internet, social media users and Internet companies prefer regulation-less virtual environment (in the name of innovation, entrepreneurship) whereas governments are pushing for more governance (in the name of public interests). The recent summit of the Group of 8 industrialized nations displayed such tug-of-war. The host of the G8 meeting France President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the creation of “civilized Internet” and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt saying: “Technology will move faster than governments, so don’t legislate before you understand the consequences.”

With a growing number of legal actions brought worldwide against Internet users for libelous comments posted online setting precedents to previously uncharted waters, it thus falls on the users to adopt a more common sensical approach when posting their thoughts on the Social Web.

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