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.