Context Doesn’t Matter When Posting Rants

A defendant who posted a series of rants on the website “Ripoff Reports” claimed that the nature and tone of the website, and the posts that appeared on it, were enough to defeat a claim of libel.  Plaintiff, Piping Rock Partners, and its sole shareholder posted a series of rants about David Lerner Associates.  Piping Rock claimed that the rants were just that, and raised an “everyone knows the internet is just for ranting and not to be taken too seriously” defense.

The Court disagreed and with a shoutout to a popular search engine, ruled that anything that is searchable on google is presumed true.

Piping Rock Partners Inc. v. David Learner Associates Inc, (here) represents another case in the shifting tide toward giving more credibility to website postings.  Is it time to shift the presumption of posts from false to true ?  I would argue context matters.  After all, think about all those dating website posts.   Looks like Poppy won this one.

 

Maybe this defamation case will go to trial?

Those who watch “defamation by twitter” cases know that very few go to trial and to date none have made it to the level of appellate review.  A new case, however, has court watchers hoping for some decision, and ultimately guidance on whether defamation via social media requires legal treatment of a nature different than the garden-variety brick and mortar type of tort.  The case, Soul Circus v. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (filed N.D. Georgia March 6, 2013) concerns a tweet by PETA claiming that “SCI [Soul Circus] does not care about the treatment, health, or wellbeing of its animals.”  The tweet, and a similar posting on the PETA Facebook site, was accompanied by an elephant, purportedly the Elephant Nosey, who appears in Soul Circus, chained to a fenced in area.   The posts received over 100,000 comments.  The same claim originally appeared on the PETA website.

Soul Circus is suing PETA for defamation, tortious interference and false light.  The case seems fairly straight forward.  Assuming Soul Circus can prove damages and that PETA cannot use the defense of truth, the circus should succeed in its claim.

Arguably, it is hard to defame in 140 characters, although here the direct allegation of animal cruelty seems straight forward enough to prove the elements of defamation, without innuendo.  However, even so, it seems to me that the question of damages is a big issue.  The traditional rule where defamation is concerned is that a defendant only commits one count of libel regardless of the number of rebroadcasts of a particular defamatory statement.  Given the proliferation of social media, should the rule change and if so should a damage reward reflect that?

Social Media’s Role in Trump v. Maher

Donald Trump is suing Bill Maher for breach of contract.   Last month Maher made an announcement during the Jay Leno show that he would pay the charity of Trump’s choice $5 million if Trump released his birth certificate.  Maher made the offer in response to Trump’s seemingly illogical calls for President O’Bama’s birth certificate, which he made as head of the so called birther movement.  Trump, who in the court filings identifies himself as “a highly successful businessman, investor, and television personality” claims that Maher’s failure to honor the offer constitutes a breach. So  what does social media have to do with the seemingly easy contracts case?  In his complaint, Trump alleges that Maher “engaged in base insults, stating that Mr. Trump’s postings on the Twitter social networking service are the work of a “syphilitic monkey.”  Not sure what these posts have to do with a contracts claim; the comments might be better suited for libel.  Except there are a host of defenses for Maher on this one; truth, privilege, failure to cause special damages, absence of malice (after all, by his own admission, Trump is a public figure)   Which one’s do you think would stick?