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
    pacelegal, 1 Oct 2011 @ 4:10am

    Re: what is substantial publication in Twitter defamation cases

    The case of Cairns v Modi 2010 EWCA was a case which looked at the extent of publication, hearing expert testimony and canvassing previous case law as to whether there has been a substantial tort committed in the jurisdiction where the claimant is bringing an action. The expert opinion by the parties differed markedly. The court concluded that there is no arbitrarily limit which can be fixed in determining the extent of readership having reviewed previous case law. It all depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. For example on this occasion the tweet would have likely reached a wider circulation beyond the immediate followers (based on an estimated figure as the probability of followers reading the tweet cannot be proven, despite the defendant testifying they contacted every followers) The Court acknowledged the fact that a tweet can have a wider circulation and distribution through various channels beyond Twitter and in this case took into account that both figures were prominent in their field and the defamatory statement both scandalous and topical. This increased the risk of re-publication of the original alleged defamatory tweet. The expert testimony can be viewed here in my article.

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