Twible Goes to Trial!

Libel cases brought against defendants for twitter comments never go to trial… until now.  A a case brought by San Diego Lawyer Rhonda Holmes against Courtney Love for tweets against Holmes claiming Holmes had been “bought off,” is underway in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Three years ago, Love settled a libel suit brought by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir for tweets about the designer’s parenting and business practices.  That case, like every other defamation by twitter case, was settled prior to trial.

Defamation occurs when one knowingly makes false statements that harms another’s reputation.  Written defamation is libel. In my article, Death of Slander, I argue that although tweets are drafted carelessly and not with the reflection and intention of traditional journalism – the subject of all previous libel cases-tweets are none-the-less libel.  The courts agree on this point, treating tweets as libel, rather than slander, which is spoken defamation.

What is unclear, however, is whether brief tweets are capable of defamatory comment.  One issue is the relevance of innuendo in discerning the meaning of a particular tweet.  Another is the common understanding that the twitterverse is used for brief rants and emotional outbursts, consequently a particular tweets veracity is viewed with skepticism. Whether a tweet is capable of defamation has long been the speculation of scholars.  Now a jury will have the chance to decide whether defamation can occur in 140 characters or less.

3 thoughts on “Twible Goes to Trial!”

  1. Words hurt no matter where they are published and no matter how many (or few) characters it takes. Tweeters should not be immune from liability for defamation simply by publishing their opinions via Twitter rather than via a “traditional” form of media.

  2. I understand defamation and libel. I also agree vigorous enforcement provides civility to our society. What I am most concerned with are we becoming a society so concerned with suffocating free speach and thoughts that we provide no civil outlet for free expression. Does this then lead to explosive behavior and explain the proliferation of senseless violence? I do know we need to seek out what triggers the over 18 school shootings since Newtown and the other senseless violence which occurs each day. There is clearly a sensitive balance here. I wonder what is better for society; hide the prejudice and hurtful speach by suppressing it or hear it, address it and resolve differences. I know my thoughts wandered from the original post but I have the right to? Correct??????

  3. Correct on all counts. You of course have a right to comment but of more value are the comments you make. Holding people accountable for their off-handed tweets will assure civility in a way that ignoring rants will not. I agree that the balance between free speech and liability is tenuous but holding people accountable will stop the every growing trend toward throwing our hands up in response to cyberbullying.

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