Sued Over Twitter Message? Can You Defame Someone In 140 Characters Or Less?

from the sue-first,-ask-questions-later dept

Tom writes in to alert us that a woman in Chicago has been sued for defamation by the company that manages her apartment over a Twitter message. The message she put on Twitter read:
"Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay."
And, rather than address a concern of one of their residents, the company brought out the lawyers, and sued for over $50,000. A little investigation reveals that the woman had all of 20 followers, which makes you question just how much actual damage was done by this message.

Still, for my money, the best single paragraph/statement about Horizon Group Management has to be the following one, in the Chicago Sun-Times, quoting Jeffrey Michael, speaking for Horizon Group (and a member of the family that runs it):
"We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization," he said, noting that the company manages 1,500 apartments in Chicago and has a good reputation it wants to preserve.
I'm curious as to how being a "sue first, ask questions later kind of organization" meshes with having "a good reputation it wants to preserve." I'd argue that (1) suing a tenant of a meaningless tweet (and drawing much more attention to the complaint) and (2) claiming that you're a "sue first, ask questions later kind of organization" in the national media are going to do a hell of a lot more damage to any "good reputation" (if it existed in the first place) than some random woman with 20 followers bitching about mold in her apartment.

Filed Under: apartment, defamation, lawsuits, twitter
Companies: horizon group management, twitter

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  1. identicon
    Jeff Molander, 28 Jul 2009 @ 9:06pm

    here's where it gets interesting...

    I think there is more at work here than meets the eye. Horizon is litigious... ok... but if their legal team is smart they'll use "Twitter math" on this and win. Here's how in a nutshell:

    At the moment, the world values Twitter far beyond it's actual worth. Twitter is so important that “it will change everything" and so profound that nothing can measure it.

    Most digital marketers believe Twitter to be tremendously valuable although they cannot tell you, concretely, why. In fact most of the world believes Twitter's value (ie. power) to be INFINITE.

    That in mind lawyers can leverage this to win and win big.

    Twitter’s value perception is kept high by marketer’s disconnection with (denial of?) the way people actually use it. The true value of Twitter, for most of us willing to play along, is endlessly unknown… and it’s best kept that way so far as we’re concerned because that supports the perception of infinite value.

    Example: With every additional person you follow on Twitter the average ‘attention value per followed person’ decreases.

    Hence, the number of Twitter followers is not a score — it’s a statistic. It’s like ‘minutes used on your phone plan’ or ‘number of claimed dependents.’ Why would a marketer treat it as a score — a measure of social media success?

    Perhaps because doing so is based on a decades-old system of valuing what we think is real… think is actually happening with customers. The world of “brand advertising.”

    A good lawyer will understand all of this and leverage it. They'll actually convince a judge quite easily -- in this environment -- of defamation that doesn't exist. It's no different than a social media expert/agency convincing a major brand of advertising value that just plain doesn't exist (yet merits continual investment).

    Candidly, I find the notion to be sickening but Twittermainia is in full swing.

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