@Twitterverse: Are your tweets defamatory? #HorizonRealty

By: Donna Ray Berkelhammer. This was posted Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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A Chicago property management company has just filed a $50,000 defamation suit against a tenant who messaged her 20 Twitter contacts: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK”

Horizon Realty apparently filed suit for business defamation without any warning or communication with the tenant. In Illinois, like North Carolina the basic elements of defamation are publication of a false statement that harmed the plaintiff’s reputation. Libel is a written false statement and slander is a verbal false statement.. They are known as defamation generally.

Typically, to bring a civil suit like this, the suing party (plaintiff) must show actual damages, either monetary or intangible. But when someone’s trade or profession is allegedly defamed, that person is presumed to be harmed without having to show damages. This is called libel or defamation per se.

The truth of the statement is an absolute defense to the claim of defamation.

Although Twitter is a public forum with millions of users and the potential for more than 20 people to see the post, probably only a handful of people saw it and my guess is most just discounted it as the exaggeration of their friend.

Until Horizon filed suit, and its owner was quoted as saying “We’re a sue first, ask questions later company.” Now, it’s a trending topic on Twitter and millions of people are talking about it (be sure to check out the comments for insight into how savvy social media folks view this situation). Now, Horizon appears to becoming an online joke.

[Since I first published, Horizon has released additional information.]

But what exactly is the nature of Twitter? Is it “publishing” to “tweet” (post on Twitter) or is it more of a chat between friends that happens to be overheard?

The informal and short (140 character) nature of posting on Twitter leads many people to think of it as an informal conversation between friends. But the truth is that Twitter is a public forum, and what you say can be the basis for a defamation suit. It can also be the basis for adverse employment actions or unintentionally insulting clients.

My best advice on social media generally: Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want both your mom and your boss to see.

What do you think about use of Twitter generally and this incident specifically?

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