Some Notes on Laurence Fox and Libel

From Sky News:

A RuPaul’s Drag Race star and a charity boss have said they are suing actor Laurence Fox for defamation following arguments on Twitter in which he called some of his critics “paedophiles”.

Fox has since deleted the tweets, but said he made the comments after being “falsely smeared as a racist” when he criticised Sainsbury’s for supporting Black History Month.

Drag star Crystal and Simon Blake, the deputy chair of Stonewall and chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, have both said they are suing Fox.

There are shades here of Elon Musk’s similar abuse against Vernon Unsworth, which led to a legal case in Los Angeles. That libel action failed primarily because Musk’s defence successfully argued that the term “pedo guy” was an insult rather than an actual allegation, even though Musk initially doubled down and looked for substantive evidence. The defence was characterised as “JDART”, meaning “Joke that was badly received, therefore was Deleted, with an Apology, followed by Responsive Tweets to move on from the issue”.

Fox could argue along similar lines in London, and there is a semi-precedent from 2007, when a High Court ruling made a distinction between serious allegations posted to an online message board and “messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes”. On the other hand, though, and as I’ve argued before, “paedophile” is not just some meaningless term of crude abuse like “bastard” or “wanker”. It is a highly stigmatising allegation, and a public figure being allowed to bandy it around even as a “joke” is a sinister development. “Jokes” can be a form of intimidation and incitement, and amplified by others beyond the original context may easily become established as some kind of spurious “common knowledge”.

Oddly, Fox’s outburst and its was not chronicled in the Daily Telegraph or the Sunday Telegraph, even though the two papers have spent the last two weeks puffing the actor’s political pretensions based on nothing more than the fact that a wealthy donor, Jeremy Hosking, is reportedly bankrolling his efforts to create a “UKIP for culture”. Presumably the papers have decided that the incident is not to Fox’s credit and as such is best passed over in silence.

Excursus – the “racist” allegations

Fox could of course himself sue for libel over the “racism” allegations, although the case would hinge on the defendants’ right to express a view on what kind of opinions constitute racism – nobody is accusing Fox of having said or done anything that he disputes actually happened.

It should also be noted that allegations of racism are central to Fox’s own rhetoric – the Question Time appearance that launched his new activist persona included the claim that the concept of “white privilege” is racist, and he more recently accused Rebecca Front of using a “racist phrase”. He also essentially accused Sainsbury’s of racism (“you promote racial segregation and discrimination”). This works against the suggestion that his “paedophile” Tweets were some kind of principled protest against the casual deployment of “racist” as a descriptive term.

One last point: it appears that Fox objected in particular to Sainsbury’s announcing “online support groups for black colleagues across the business”. However, he does not appear to have objected to widespread media reports that have alluded his Tweet in relation to Sainsbury’s promotion of Black History Month more generally.

One Response

  1. Oh Purleeeze!

    “Bastard” or even “wanker” weren’t just some meaningless terms of crude abuse, they were highly shaming and stigmatising allegations.

    Likewise “racist” is today not only a highly shaming and stigmatising allegation, is not merely a form of intimidation, it actually IS incitement, and amplified by others like Owen Jones to far, far beyond the original context!

    It DOES easily become established as some kind of spurious “common knowledge” that excuses the “liberal” knuckle-draggers to not only howl you down down, censor, no-platforn, boycott, cancel and unperson you.

    And corporates to blacklist, close social media and even real life accounts, even your bank, or to refuse to hire and to even fire you.

    Even your trade union to attack never mind refuse to defend you.

    But to even justify promote incite and excuse the bashing of you as a “Fash” and punching you on the nose as a Nazi!

    And a public figure being allowed to bandy it around clearly not even as a “joke” is a sinister development.

    “Jokes” can be an incitement to everything from an assault to murder.

    Which is what, argument having failed with ‘liberals”, he was trying to demonstrate with satire in his parody of THEIR “verbal” assaults on him!

    But the “liberals” STILL don’t get it!!!

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