By Dana Halber

Courtney Love, the grunge rock queen, spent eight days in court at the end of last month standing trial for “Twibel,” the commonplace term for “Twitter libel.” Twibel is the act of defaming another individual through a 140-character Twitter “tweet.”  Love’s former attorney, Rhonda J. Holmes, sued Love for the publication of a reputation damaging Tweet, which implied that Holmes had been “bought off” as the reason for Holmes no longer acting as Love’s attorney.[1]  Love argued that the mass dissemination of the tweet was inadvertent, as she only intended to send it two people, and once she realized it had been published to her 220,000 plus Twitter followers, she deleted the tweet.[2]  Even more legally significant, Love claimed she believed the statement to be true at the time she sent the tweet, demonstrating that Love lacked the “knowingly false or doubting the truth” of the statement requisite to find her guilty of libel.[3]  Ultimately, Love prevailed when the jury determined that she was not liable for defamation.


However, did the jury reach the right verdict?  Although the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge made a precedential decision in holding 140-character or less tweets in California to the same standard as an article written for the Los Angeles Times, the jury clearly was not as strict.  Their leniency can be especially dangerous in establishing precedent in this particular case as Love is a repeat tweet offender.

Venting her frustrations over social media seems to be Love’s pattern of behavior, and the reason she is involved in another pending defamation lawsuit brought by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir for damaging comments Love made about her on Pinterest and the Howard Stern radio show.[4]  How will Love learn to temper her tweets if she’s only sharing her “opinion”, however damaging it may be, and escaping liability? And, furthermore, what message does the result of Love’s twibel trial send to the American public?  Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate our defamation law in conjunction with social media…


Meanwhile, at roughly the same time Love stood trial, on the other side of the world, Benny Handoko, an Indonesian Twitter user was found guilty of defamation for libelous comments made about an Indonesian politician via Twitter.[5]  Handoko became popular on Twitter after publishing statements in which he referred to former Prosperous Justice Party member Mukhamad Misbakhun as a crook who played a vital role in Indonesia’s Central Bank bailout scandal in 2008.[6]  Handoko was sentenced to one year probation for online defamation in violation of articles 27 and 45 of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law, which provides that “anyone found guilty of using electronic media, including social networks, to intimidate or defame others could be liable to six years in prison and a fine” that can amount up to approximately $105,000 U.S.D.[7]  Handoko, refused to apologize for his statements, believing them to be true, as he based them on media reports.[8]  Accessable.


[1] Eriq Gardner, Courtney Love Wins Twitter Defamation Trial, The Hollywood Reporter (Jan, 24, 2014, 5:03 PM),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Mong Palatino, How One Twitter Defamation Case Casts a Shadow on Media in Indonesia, Mediashift (Feb. 11, 2014),

[6] Id.

[7] TechLoy Reporter, Indonesian reporter convicted of libel of Twitter, protest surges over draconian internet law, TechLoy (Feb. 4, 2014),

[8] Palatino, id.

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.

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