Twitter users have failed to heed previous lessons in declaring the guilt of a celebrity under criminal investigation, with Sir Cliff Richard the latest focus of attention through the microblogging platform after his home was searched by police in connection to an alleged historic sexual offence.
The allegation against the popstar, which he branded “completely false”, came from an attendee of a 1985 religious event hosted by American evangelist preacher Billy Graham in Sheffield.
Arriving without warning, police searched Richard's Berkshire home for evidence of his alleged relationship with a boy under 16 years old.
Despite not being charged by police, ‘Cliff Richard’ was mentioned in over 25,000 social media discussions on Thursday with much of the content proving libelous and presuming the pop star's guilt while also making light of sex offences in general.
A minority of users, disgusted by the nature of the comments directed at the singer, jumped to his defence.
Worth pointing out that in the UK you are innocent until proven guilty #cliffrichard
— Bethemedia (@Bethemediauk) August 14, 2014
After the raid, Richard said: “For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online. The allegations are completely false.
"Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen.”
Richard added: "However, the police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except, it would appear, to the press. I am not presently in the UK but it goes without saying that I will co-operate fully should the police wish to speak to me."
The raid was not connected to Operation Yewtree which is investigating allegations of historical impropriety linked to former BBC presenter Jimmy Saville.
This latest controversy raises further questions for Twitter regarding its involvement in the spread of libelous and offensive content.
The first major instance of mass Twitter defamation arose when the House of Common speaker's wife, Sally Bercow, along with comedian Alan Davies, tweeted comments implying Tory peer Lord McAlpine was a paedophile.
On 4 November, Bercow tweeted: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*"
The tweet was in reference to BBC and ITV accusations that McAlpine was a paedophile - an ultimately false statement which saw McAlpine's reputation destroyed online. As a result, each broadcaster had to pay six-figure fees in damages.
Lord McAlpine dropped his case against the 10,000 individuals who libelled him, in February 2013, with the exception of Sally Bercow, who apologised and paid £15,000 in damages.