Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Defamation on Twitter

Scary news from the BBC that Amanda Bonnen, a Chicago apartment block tenant, is being sued in the USA for defamation by Horizon Group Management because she tweeted in May 2009 that: "Who said sleeping in a mouldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon really thinks it's okay."

While Ms Bonnen had recently moved out, Horizon had never discussed the tweet with her or asked her to take it down.

Horizon, who’s seeking $50,000 (£30,900) in damages, claimed the tweet was "published throughout the world" and severely damaged its good name.

Ms Bonnen had just 20 followers on Twitter at the time (her Twitter account’s since been deleted).

Even in the UK, which is known for its claimant-friendly defamation laws and consequent “libel tourism”, the courts have held that message board / bulletin board / forum postings are more akin to slander than libel, and can be protected as “fair comment” as long as they don’t cross the line (Smith v ADVFN Plc & Ors [2008] EWHC 1797 (QB) (25 July 2008)) -  forum posts are more like “saloon bar moanings" (Sheffield Wednesday Football Club Ltd & Ors v Hargreaves [2007] EWHC 2375 (QB) (18 October 2007)).

It seems to me that this reasoning applies even more strongly to a tweet.

It will be interesting to see what the US court rules, if this goes to trial.

(For anyone who doesn’t know, Twitter is a micro-blogging site where people post short messages (“tweets”) of up to 140 characters. If you don’t “protect” your tweets, anyone can read them, although in practice unless you sign up and “follow” someone, or do a search or standing search, you’re unlikely to see their tweets. Most tweets aren’t protected.)

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