Twitter is a massive social media platform home to about 322 million people worldwide. It can be described as a blogging platform where you can send out a ‘tweet’ up to 140 characters long and also include links to other websites.
Just like Facebook and Instagram, you can follow a person or organization on twitter. If you do, you can see their timeline and their tweets. Twitter’s population consists of the average person scrolling randomly to celebrities, business tycoons, you name it!
Now imagine yourself watching your favorite game, you’re pretty confident that your team will win, you go on twitter and post, “I will buy everyone in my office lunch if my team wins today’s match”. Your team wins and now you see your colleagues retweeting your tweet and commenting that lunch is on you. You think, “lol, I can’t believe they fell for such a joke”. Well, watch out, you might actually be legally bound to hold up to your end of that promise. Just ask Kanye West or Damarious Randall from the Cleveland Browns.
Damarious once tweeted that if the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA finals, he would buy everyone who retweets him a jersey. His post got retweeted by more than 900,000 people. Now if he were to buy jerseys for the all the people who retweeted, then he would have to spend about $80 million. His earnings so far from his career will not be enough.
If we look at contractual agreements, they rely on three factors: offer, acceptance, and consideration. If we analyze Randall’s tweet, it can be said that his tweet is an open standing offer to all his twitter followers. The followers have can accept his offer to retweet and when a follower retweets, he/she has provided the necessary consideration. The deciding factor is whether a retweet is a valid consideration under a court of law? The American courts have no such precedent to date.
A retweet generally reiterates the original tweet and brings it to the attention of the followers of the person who retweets. This can amount to some sort of publicity or acceptance of the person who made the original tweet. As a retweet can amount to a valid consideration, this promise made by Randall can be considered a legally binding contract.
He later confirmed that his tweet was a joke. He stated, “I definitely didn’t think it would go as viral as it did. I definitely didn’t think the Cleveland fan base would go this crazy about it. Obviously, it was a joke”. Randall has started this was a joke and that he would do something nice for the fans who retweeted.
In February 2016, Rapper Kanye West tweeted that his then upcoming album ‘Life of Pablo’ would only be available on Tidal, a music streaming platform. Tidal’s subscriber base went from 1 million to 3 million within six weeks following Kanye’s tweet. Within a month and a half of the album’s initial release on Tidal, the album was made available to Tidal’s biggest competitor, Apple music and Spotify.
One of Kanye’s fan Mr Justin Baker-Rhett along with Edelson PC, a Chicago law firm, filed a class action lawsuit against Kanye West and Tidal (Which is owned by famous musician Jay Z) in regard to the exclusivity of Kanye’s Album ‘The life of Pablo’. It was alleged that Mr. West and Tidal misled consumers by making them believe that the album would only be available on Tidal as per the tweet. The promise was short lived as the album made its way to other streaming services after six weeks. Kany and Tidal had lured consumers with the bait of one-month free trial and the exclusivity of the album to boost membership of Tidal. The streaming platform got access to private data and credit card information of the consumers. Kanye West and Tidal fraudulently induced millions of consumers to pay for the dying music platform Tidal. The class action lawsuit gained traction and eventually Kanye West and Tidal managed to settle the $84 million class action lawsuit.
On July 11, 2017, a lawsuit was filed against the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump and his aides for blocking seven people from the former president’s twitter account because of their criticism of the presidency and the policies.
The United States Court rejected the President’s argument that the account was private as the account was used for official purposes. It distinguished between how the account was used then, while the president was in office and how it will be used when he is a private citizen again. The former president himself stated that he used the platform to announce, describe and defend policies. The national archives also concluded that the president’s tweets are now official records. It further determined that the block restricted the expressive conduct which allowed individuals to communicate with the President. The court also held that the former president’s account constituted a public forum as it was used for the government’s outreach and that twitter’s features made it accessible to the public. The block was unconstitutional.
The First Amendment states that the government may not exclude speech of speakers on the basis of viewpoint. Citing Hartman v Moore, the court affirmed that the First amendment prohibited the government from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions. Since it was established that President Trump blocked the claimants due to their critical comments, the court held that the president has violated the First Amendment.
The three instanced above are just some of the examples of why everyone should be careful about what they say in twitter. The kind of precedent, the cases mentioned, and future cases will set will slowly determine how much of what a person can say on twitter can become binding.
As social media is increasingly integrating itself into our daily lives and is becoming a part of us, the social platform known as twitter and all other social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok will surely give rise more issues like the cases above. The kettle may be boiling but it has not started to whistle just yet.
 Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250 (2006).