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Research claims 'dramatic jump' in online defamation cases predicted since birth of sites such as Facebook and Twitter

The number of defamation court cases involving claims on online libel has more than doubled in the past year, according to legal information provider Sweet and Maxwell.

In figures released today the firm claimed that court cases related to allegations of defamation on the internet rose to 16 in the year ending 31 May, compared to seven in the previous year.

The Thomson Reuters company claims the research "points to the growth of social media" as the cause of this rise, with two defamation cases in courts in England and Wales citing social media in 2006 to 2007, compared to 16 in the past year.

Overall, on and offline, defamation cases rose by just three in the past year.

Media specialist with Addleshaw Goddard LLP Korieh Duodu said in a release that the speed information travels online means "one unchecked comment can spread into the mainstream media within minutes.

"Of course, so much material on the internet is now written by non-professionals without any of the fact-checking that should take place within traditional media organisations.

"There is certainly a need for greater accountability of the providers of user-generated content; a need to tighten the regulatory framework within which they operate. This ought to have been a focus of the proposed defamation bill currently being debated."

Earlier this year the Justice Minister Lord McNally called on online media experts to use the draft defamation bill consultation period to offer advice on how the bill could legislate the internet.

The research released today by Sweet and Maxwell also suggested a drop in the number of celebrities suing the media, down 59 per cent to nine cases in 2010/2011, from 22 in 2009/10.

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