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.

Twitter Defamation Case Gets Tossed – But Concerns Remain

In a previous post, I linked to a story about a tenant who was sued for libel after posting an allegedly disparaging comment on Twitter about her apartment. The Twitter lawsuit was a hot topic on the internet for some time.   Many commentators believed it was only a matter of time before Twitter resulted in a damage award for libel.  Not so in this case.   A Chicago judge has tossed out the lawsuit.  Reports indicate that the Judge made a specific finding that the "tweet was nonactionable as a matter of law."   

In this case,  the tenant made a Twitter post that her apartment was moldy.  Before bringing the suit, the landlord might have considered how many people actually read the Tweet.  My guess is probably a few hundred at best.  After the lawsuit was filed, millions read about it.  At the time of the lawsuit, the landlord company issued a statement saying "we’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of organization."   That is not a wise strategy in general, but in particular when it comes to an Internet defamation case.   Anything involving a lawsuit and social networking has a good chance of being picked up in the media and in various places on the Internet. 

The Chicago court’s ruling that the statement on Twitter failed to meet the standard for defamation seems correct if you consider Connecticut’s defamation standard, which is similar.  The takeaway here is that not every negative statement qualifies as a defamatory statement.  This does not mean a post on Twitter cannot constitute defamation.  In fact, Twitter postings remain fair game for defamation suits, and we are likely to see more of these claims.