Be Careful What You Twitter

By Maria Cheung

Reviewed by Jennifer Williams

Twitter devotees use the social networking website to inform their followers of their every move and thought. But at what cost does the freedom to Twitter come? Ask Courtney Love as the tweets of her innermost thoughts recently cost the Hole frontwoman more than $430,000.

According to the Associated Press, fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir sued Love for defamation and accused Love of tweeting false statements about the designer and her past. Simorangkir alleged that Love’s false statements hurt her career and could cost the designer millions in lost revenue. According to Simorangkir’s lawyer, Love “embarked on what is nothing short of an obsessive and delusional crusade to destroy Simorangkir’s reputation and her livelihood.”

Simorangkir’s label is called Boudoir Queen and the designer first encountered Love in 2008. The two next met in February 2009 in Los Angeles to discuss some custom clothing. According to AOL News, the relationship then turned hostile after the designer requested payment from Love for the clothing.

In a flurry of tweets from Love, which date back to March 17, 2009, Love called Simorangkir a “drug-pushing prostitute,” among other names. Love’s tirades continued on Twitter, MySpace.com and Etsy.com for the next four days, attracting a lot of attention from Love’s 90,000 followers. Love’s followers reportedly retweeted Love’s messages about the designer to an even larger audience. Simorangkir claimed Love’s tweets and rants damaged her reputation and ultimately destroyed her career.

Love settled the lawsuit with Simorangkir for more than $430,000 and the settlement was confirmed by Simorangkir’s attorney, Bryan J. Freedman.

This case is one of the first situations in which a court (if the case had continued to trial) would have considered whether social media platforms like Twitter can be held to the same libel standards as traditional news media. The difference, of course, between social networking websites such as Twitter and a traditional news outlet such as a newspaper is that social networking sites are inherently personal. People post their private thoughts and feelings on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace for their “friends” but should the law focus less on the type of news or social media and more on the person posting? A public person’s social network profiles undoubtedly reach more people than a person not in the public eye. Should this be part of the court’s eventual analysis in deciding how to evaluate libel standards amidst social media websites such as Twitter?  Additionally, there is the First Amendment argument that Love’s statements should not have been taken as truths, but purely as her opinions. Thus, an argument could be made that Love’s statements and tirades should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.  Although Love and Simorangkir have settled their lawsuit, I am sure this issue of defamation via social networking sites will certainly appear before a court soon and when it does, it will hopefully be another example of traditional laws adapting to fit new technology.

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