Friday 6 December 2019

American self-help guru Tony Robbins to target Twitter and Buzzfeed in Irish defamation cases

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins delivering his masterclass at the Pendulum Summit 2016 at the Convention Centre in Dublin.
Pic Steve Humphreys
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins delivering his masterclass at the Pendulum Summit 2016 at the Convention Centre in Dublin. Pic Steve Humphreys
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

American self-help guru Tony Robbins is suing US news website Buzzfeed for defamation in Dublin and is threatening similar proceedings against social media giant Twitter.

The case relates to articles detailing alleged sexual misconduct, which Mr Robbins vehemently denies.

Although Buzzfeed is headquartered in New York and most of its audience is in the US, the world famous life coach issued proceedings in the High Court in Dublin yesterday.

Mr Robbins’ solicitor Paul Tweed has defended his client’s decision to sue in Ireland.

"My client is entitled to have his name cleared. In my opinion the Irish courts are just as capable of making that determination as the English courts or the American courts," said Mr Tweed.

He said Ireland would be the appropriate forum for both sets of proceedings as Twitter’s European headquarters is in Dublin.

"It is totally appropriate that we try to keep everything under one roof," he said.

The defamation regime in Ireland is much stricter than the US and is also considered more plaintiff-friendly than the UK, making Dublin a prime location for so-called libel tourism.

Actors Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel previously chose to sue Heat magazine in Dublin, claiming they were defamed in its European edition, even though Ireland was not its biggest European market and it did not have editorial offices here.

Mr Tweed also acted in that case, which was settled.

Mr Robbins is not only aggrieved with Buzzfeed’s coverage, but the manner in which it has spread on social media platforms.

Mr Tweed said his firm had put Twitter "on notice" of a potential lawsuit.

Should Mr Robbins go ahead with such proceedings, it would set up an interesting legal showdown as social media companies have not previously been successfully sued in Ireland over the publication of defamatory material.

Twitter and Facebook’s position is that they are entitled to the benefit of the hosting immunity provided for under the EU’s e-Commerce Directive, which has been transposed into Irish law.

They also tend to rely on the innocent publication defence under the Defamation Act.

In a statement, Mr Tweed said: "We confirm that defamation proceedings have been issued on behalf of our client in the High Court in relation to a number of unfounded allegations published by Buzzfeed, with the intention of undermining our client’s hard-earned international reputation.

"Notwithstanding the full co-operation and extensive rebuttal evidence offered to Buzzfeed on behalf of our client and a significant number of witnesses, he has nonetheless been subjected to a persistent attack on his character over the course of a number of articles.

"Our client has therefore been left with no alternative but to seek the assistance of the courts here in Ireland and elsewhere as may be appropriate in the circumstances."

A plenary summons issued against Buzzfeed UK Limited says Mr Robbins is seeking damages for defamation, malicious falsehood, misrepresentation, breach of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He is also seeking an injunction under the Defamation Act, restraining Buzzfeed from publishing similar allegations again.

Buzzfeed has said it is "unequivocally" standing by its reporting, which it said was supported by hundreds of interviews, audio recordings, and documentary evidence. It also criticised Mr Robbins’ decision to sue it outside the US.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Mr Tweed defended his client’s decision to sue in Ireland.

"We believe Ireland is the appropriate jurisdiction to take these proceedings and we will, if necessary, be proceeding against Twitter in Dublin as well," he said.

"As you know Tony Robbins’ books are available in all of the Dublin bookshops. He has given talks in Ireland.

"So he is a very well-known personality in Ireland and just as well known here as he would be in the UK."

A Twitter spokesperson said it had no comment.

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