I opened an earlier blog post on the topic of defamation over Twitter with the hypothetical question, "How much damage can you do to a person’s reputation in 140 characters?" Accordingly to Courtney Love's recent settlement of an infamous defamation action against her, the answer seems to be - well over US$400,000.
Former Hole frontwoman Courtney Love found herself unexpectedly at the cutting edge of the law of defamation when she was sued by Dawn Simorangkir, a fashion designer, for comments that Love posted about Simorangkir on Twitter and on Love's Myspace blog. The case became a high-profile example of how the rules developed by the traditional law of defamation would be applied to govern conduct on emerging and increasingly influential social media.
Simorangkir filed the lawsuit in March of 2009, alleging that Love made false and defamatory statements about her, including allegations of theft, drug abuse, and having a criminal background. According to recent media reports, Love settled the lawsuit for US$430,000. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in February and was being watched my many in the defamation bar. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the identity of the defendant, the case also caught the attention of websites and commentators who do not typically follow and report on legal news. For example, the settlement was widely reported and commented upon in websites such as Perez Hilton's celebrity gossip site.
If there is anything positive to come out of this story, it may be that Love's star power brought this case to public attention and with it the larger question of how the law of defamation applies to social media such as Twitter. The case also serves as a reminder to all users of social media that, despite the ease and informality of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like, the usual rules of defamation do apply and with those rules comes the risk of significant liability for damages where one's comments cause injury to the reputation of another.