How much damage can you do to a person’s reputation in 140 characters? If one were to judge from the flurry of defamation cases involving Twitter and similar social media that have been filed in the past couple of years, the answer is, “Enough to interest a lawyer.” As you probably already know if you’re tech savvy enough to be reading this blog, Twitter is form of messaging that allows a person to send 140-character text messages (known as “tweets”) to any number of people who have chosen to follow that person’s tweets.

One of the first Twitter defamation cases involved Courtney Love, the notorious rock star and actress. Love was sued by Dawn Simorangkir, a fashion designer, for a series of threatening and defamatory internet posts and tweets, including one that allegedly described the plaintiff as a “nasty lying hosebag thief”, made after the two had a falling out over payment for clothing that Simorangkir made for Love. Love applied to have the claim struck on the basis that her tweets were a form of consumer protection, designed to warn Love’s followers of the plaintiff’s unsavoury business practices. The motion to strike was dismissed (see Superior Court of the State of California, Case No.: BC410593).

Canadian courts have not yet had the opportunity to rule on a Twitter defamation claim, but it is only a matter of time. Until they do, the lesson for users of social media such as Twitter is to remember that, with every Facebook update, blog post or tweet that you send, you are “publishing”. And that makes the law of defamation, which used to be of interest only to newspapers, book publishers, and broadcasters, a topic of interest for everyone.