“Mara Feld a/k/a Gina Holt – you are fucking crazy!”
One of the issues we address in this blog is the notion that social media doesn’t necessarily create new claims, but rather serves as a quicker and easier platform to apply traditional claims that have existed forever. Take defamation, for example. Do traditional defamation rules still apply to the 2014 world of social media? Are you fu*king nuts?
Who doesn’t love a fu*king great court decision about horses? According to a decision just issued by a federal judge in Massachusetts, plaintiff had “arranged for her thoroughbred gelding, Munition, to be shipped to a horse farm” to become a companion horse. Instead, the gelding was apparently sent to a fu*king horse auction, and may have ultimately been slaughtered. A debate on horses ensued on the Internet, and defendant posted the above quoted message on her Twitter account. Plaintiff sued for defamation, claiming that the tweet was “an unexplained indictment of Mara Feld’s sanity.”
In a very fu*king quick decision, the federal judge dismissed the case, viewing the tweet as nothing more than non-actionable hyperbole:
“The tweet cannot be read in isolation, but in the context of the entire discussion. In this case, the tweet was made as part of a heated Internet debate about plaintiff’s responsibility for the disappearance of her horse. Furthermore, it cannot be read literally without regard to the way in which a reasonable person would interpret it.
“The phrase ‘Mara Feld . . . is fucking crazy,’ when viewed in that context, cannot reasonably be understood to state actual facts about plaintiff’s mental state. It was obviously intended as criticism—that is, as opinion—not as a statement of fact. The complaint therefore cannot base a claim of defamation on that statement.
“The complaint bases its claim of defamation solely on defendant’s tweet. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss will be granted.”
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?
Decisions like this do not mean that anyone (including your employees) can say whatever the fu*k they want over social media. Traditional rules in and out of the workplace, such as defamation, do apply, though courts seem willing to look at context and take into account that social media does make it more likely perhaps to provoke quick and easy emotional statements.
It’s still important to make sure your employees know that social media is not a “get out of jail free” card where they can do or say anything they want about your company or others. The proper balance must be maintained, and considered by your company if you intend to take action based on a social media statement. You might think I’m fu*king crazy. But I’ve been called far worse.