Will The “It Was Just A Tweet” Defense Work In The First Twitter Defamation Trial?

As mentioned before on this blog, Courtney Love was sued for defamation arising out of
her notorious Twitter posts. As the case heads to trial on February 6th, she has taken down her Twitter page. Recall that Love was sued by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir for a series of allegedly defamatory tweets. (She called her a drug-pushing prostitute for starters). THR, Esq Bloggers Matt Belloni and Eriq Gardner have a good summary of what’s expected at the upcoming trial.  Simorangkir’s lawyer claims it is the first case of its kind, and he may be right.

Legal observers are paying attention to whether the court or jury gives more leeway to someone posting on Twitter because tweets by their very nature are opinionated posts. According to legal blog watch, the case is also likely to feature another first, a social media expert.   Jessie Stricchiola is the expert.  Apparently, as a social media expert, she will testify as to the nature of Twitter posts, number of readers, and credibility.

My own opinion is that there should not be any special consideration for commentary on Twitter.  The posts or tweets should be judged under the same standard as any other potentially defamatory statement.   Twitter is now part of the mainstream media. Take for example the recent Hayes trial in Connecticut. There were numerous reporters “live tweeting” from the courtroom. Most media personalities and journalists have twitter accounts where they regularly report and tweet facts. The reverse is also true. Journalists are now reading Twitter posts to get news stories.

The statements at issue here appear to be defamatory (assuming she is not a drug pushing prostitute) and stated as fact.  I think the “forgive me, it was just a tweet” defense is not going to work.  The idea that statements posted on Twitter are somehow less defamatory ignores the reality of the Internet.  Perhaps Love’s lawyer is banking on the jury not understanding Twitter.  The counter to that defense was the social media expert.  If the expert is able to help the jury understand Twitter, and assuming there is no truth to these statements, I suspect the bigger issue will be whether any damages can be established. We will have to wait and see. I will do another post about this case once the trial finishes.