The Defamation of Celebrities: 5 Celebs Whose Social Media Failed Them

The defamation of celebrities is not a new thing, but it certainly makes for great gossip, right? To find out more about defamation, and to hear some stories along the way, read on…

The world of social media has completely altered the media landscape. Now, people are able to comment on worldly topics, celebrity gossip, and political movements at the drop of a hat.

In many ways, this is a good thing, leading to a world of true freedom of speech. That said, in many other ways, this not only leads to hurt, upset, debate, and arguments, it can also lead to more serious consequences, like defamation.

Defamation is no joke, and can lead to serious complications, and even prison, for some! So, to discover more about this interesting subject, and how a number of well-known celebs have fallen foul to it, you came to the right place…

What is Defamation?

Defamation usually involves the publication of a statement about another person which is not true, and damages that person’s reputation. There are two ways a defamatory statement can be made:

  • Online, in a printed publication or on video – this is referred to as libel.
  • In spoken words – this is referred to as slander.

There are many examples of high-profile defamation cases; often celebrities suing the press. The most recent example of this is Johnny Depp’s libel case against The Sun newspaper, who referred to the movie star as a “wife-beater” in an April 2018 article.

Actress, Rebel Wilson, also brought a defamation case against Australian publisher, Bauer Media, in 2017 and won. This came following a series of articles published in a variety of their publications, which claimed that she had lied about her real name, age and her background.

There has been a significant rise in defamation cases in recent years, due to the explosion of social media. Unlike traditional media, where stories are checked for factual inaccuracies and inflammatory comments before being published, social media allows individuals to easily post comments at any time, unchecked. These comments are then quickly shared across the internet.

Sometimes, comments can blow up straight away, or they can come back to haunt you months or even years later. Celebrities have learnt this the hard way.

5 Occasions Where a Celeb’s Social Media Comments Have Landed Them in Hot Water

Not a year goes by without a big scandal, and a celebrity having to make a public apology about their comments on social media. In some situations, they may have even found themselves in the middle of a bitter libel case. Here are five celebrities who have experienced just that.

Elon Musk

In 2019, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, found himself at the centre of media attention, but not for his latest tech innovations. In 2018, a group of boys from a Thai football team got trapped deep inside a cave in Northern Thailand, and a massive rescue operation was launched. UK diving expert, Vernon Unsworth, was in charge of recruiting divers to help with the rescue mission.

Elon Musk sent a small submarine, accompanied by a team of Tesla engineers, to aid the rescue effort, but they were never used. After Mr Unsworth labelled the offer of help a “PR stunt”, Musk took to Twitter to write a series of tweets, one of which referred to Mr Unsworth as “pedo guy”. The messages were later deleted.

Unsworth launched a defamation case against Elon Musk, seeking £145m in damages. Elon went on to win the case, but not without months of bad publicity.

Kevin Hart

US comedian, Kevin Hart, stepped down from the job of hosting the 2019 Academy Awards after a series of tweets, from several years previously, resurfaced online. The tweets which spanned several years, contained derogatory remarks about the LGBTQ+ community. The tweets did not go unnoticed at the time, but after it was announced that he was the latest host of the Academy Awards, the tweets were widely shared on social media again.

It was then revealed that the Academy had given Hart an ultimatum; either publicly apologise or step down from the gig. Surprisingly, Hart refused to apologise and made a statement in an Instagram video. However, only a day later, he officially stepped down from the event, and apologised for “my insensitive words from my past”.

Katie Hopkins

Controversial commentator, Katie Hopkins, has landed in hot water about her public comments on several occasions. In 2017, she was sued by food blogger and campaigner Jack Monroe over two tweets that Monroe states caused “serious harm” to her reputation.

In 2015, several Twitter users highlighted a profanity that had been graffitied onto a World War II memorial during an anti-austerity demonstration. Hopkins tweeted to Monroe: “Scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?”

A judge ruled that the tweet suggested that “Ms Monroe condoned and approved of scrawling on war memorials, vandalising monuments commemorating those who fought for her freedom.” Monroe was awarded £24,000 in damages, plus legal costs. More recently, Katie Hopkins was permanently banned from Twitter for her “hateful conduct”, the site confirmed.

Courtney Love

Courtney Love, lead singer of the band Hole, and former wife of Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain, has been at the centre of not one, but three social media defamation cases. In 2011, she was sued by fashion designer, Dawn Simorangkir, after Love called her a “drug pusher” and “prostitute” on Twitter. Love had to pay $430k to Simorangkir and, not long after, was sued again by Simorangkir for comments Love made about her on Pinterest.

Roseanne Barr

In 2018, American actress, Roseanne Barr, had just revived her hit 90s sitcom ‘Roseanne’ when she sent a racist tweet directed at Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to Barack Obama. Although she later apologised and deleted the tweet, her name began trending on Twitter, with over two million tweets in the space of 24 hours.

The TV network, ABC, who had revived the sitcom, decided to cancel the show after the controversy. Barr later tried to defend her actions, saying she had been on Ambien (a sleeping pill) at the time and had not realised what she was saying. This tweet also received backlash and was swiftly deleted.

What Can You Legally do About Defamation?

Defamation is a complex area of law and one that doesn’t just affect celebrities. Anyone can be affected by defamation in different ways.

One of the most important factors in a defamation case is to understand the precise meaning behind the words used in the alleged defamatory statement. For example, insults are generally not defamatory, however, if the words used make a mockery of that person, then it may be considered defamatory.

Also, a statement is considered defamatory if it accuses a person of any illegality or immorality. If you believe that someone has made a defamatory statement about you, on social media, or anywhere else, you need to be able to show that:

  • The statement was shared with a third party e.g. social media, a news outlet etc.
  • The statement caused significant harm to your reputation e.g. it altered people’s attitude and perception of you.

What to Do if You Have Been Accused Of Defamation

According to the Defamation Act 2013, there are various ways you can defend against a defamation claim:

  • Truth: if you can prove that the alleged defamatory statement is true.
  • Honest opinion: if you can show that your statement was an opinion based on certain facts.
  • Public interest: if you believe that publishing the statement was in the public interest.
  • Privilege: if your statement is subject to privilege, e.g. certain individuals have the right to make certain statements in set circumstances.

Resolving a Defamation Case

Defamation claims vary from one case to the next, so it is important to find a resolution that is unique to your situation. Taking your case to court can be expensive, so claimants are often advised to seek alternative action, such as dispute resolution, to find the best outcome. This could be in the form of an apology and/or financial compensation.

If you do take your case to court, it must be brought within one year of the alleged defamatory statement being published. Both parties will usually want to resolve the issue as quickly as possible to limit the damage and distress. Therefore, it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

So, whether you’re a celebrity, or even a member of the general public, whose reputation has been scathed, perhaps you can claim for defamation! Have you had any experiences in the world of defamation law? Feel free to leave your stories in the comments down below; I’d love to hear!

*Collaborative post


  1. I was amazed at that Elon Musk case to be honest. He's an idiot

  2. Wow I am a bit of novis, when it comes to this sort of stuff . What a great read

  3. I feel like some "celebrities" - KH springs to mind - just make a living from being so horrible on Twitter and that although defamation cases can make them pay recompense, they ultimately just give them a bigger platform.