Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trick or Tweet: Woman's Twitter lands her in a Defamation lawsuit

People don't seem to realize that now with the ease of communicating to the public, when you're making casual remarks to your online friends you now open yourself up to liability for what you say.

Landlord sues tenant after tweet about moldy apartment
It all started when Twitter user @abonnen (Amanda Bonnen, who has since deleted her Twitter account) said to a friend on May 12, "You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay." At the time of the tweet, Bonnen's profile was public (meaning that everyone could read her Twitter stream) and she had about 20 followers.

Given that Twitter is pretty limited it is quite likely that the statement can be read as defamatory. I'm not sure on Illinois law but according to the article no request for retraction was made, which is necessary in Michigan before you can receive exemplary and punitive damages, leaving a plaintiff to only recover actual damages which in a defamation claim tend to be quite slight and hard to prove. (According to the Citizen Media Law Project there is no requirement for a Plaintiff to demand a retraction in Illinois).

The Complaint in the lawsuit can be read here.

Off the cuff Twitters about others that aren't clearly shown to be statements of opinion rather than fact can pretty easily expose the sender of the Tweet to potential liability for defamation and the expense of defending a lawsuit. Now whether it makes sense for the landlord to create such a firestorm of likely negative press and commentary about itself and its decision to sue over the seemingly innocuous tweet may be a questionable business decision, especially as landlords would likely prefer even the suggestion that they have a less than habitable apartment be as understated as possible and the lkess attention to such incidents the better. On the other hand, even negative publicity may indeed prove to be good publicity.

The real fun will be when an employee of a company says something off-the-cuff and defamatory or otherwise liability-causing over Twitter and the company gets sued for it.

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