Earlier this week, a Los Angeles jury began hearing what is believed to be the first “Twibel” lawsuit that has gone to trial in the US. What is “Twibel”? A defamatory statement made in a Tweet. Courtney Love, the widow of Kurt Cobain, is being sued by her ex-attorney and her law firm over what is alleged to be a defamatory Tweet: “I was f—— devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote.” Last month, the trial judge shot down Love’s argument that “hasty, opinionated language on Twitter should be interpreted differently than if the same words had been used in a more formal setting.” Apparently, Love had agreed to settle the case for $600,000 and make a retraction, but she failed to pay the amount and republished the allegedly defamatory Tweet. Another issue facing the jury is whether another allegedly defamatory Tweet about an associate of the law firm is libelous because Love claims the Tweet was intended to be private.
Practice pointers. The outcome of this case will be watched around the country as more and more social media posts, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are littered with what could be defamatory statements. Around the country, there have been a number of large verdicts, 6 and 7 figures, in the past concerning Facebook defamation. This is the first known case involving Twitter. In the employment context, this case is a reminder that employers need to be diligent in implementing policies, training employees, and enforcing polices when it comes to the use of social media. An employee, who defames a competitor, or even a co-worker, using the employer’s computer/smart phone, may be subjecting the employer to liability as well. It should be noted that Twitter, and other social media sites, are protected by the federal Communication Decency Act, which protects social media sites from liability for what users post on them.