Twitter Sued For Defamation By Someone Who Thinks It's Responsible For 'Publishing' Tweets

from the hello-secondary-liability dept

I would have hoped that, by now, most people could understand basic secondary liability issues, such as the difference between a service provider who provides the tools/service for communications and a content creator and/or publisher who actually creates or chooses the content. Unfortunately, when large sums of money are involved, people often have difficultly distinguishing the two. The latest situation involves a guy in Australia, named Joshua Meggitt, who appeared to have a legitimate defamation claim by Australian writer/TV personality Marieke Hardy. On her blog, she accused Meggitt of writing "ranting, hateful" articles about her. She then posted a link to her blog on Twitter, where it got a lot of attention. Hardy and Meggitt have already "settled" the dispute between each other, with a rumored $15,000 changing hands, but Meggitt has now sued Twitter directly claiming that it "published" the tweet by putting it on its front page.

It strikes me that there are a number of (significant) legal problems with this lawsuit. First, perhaps this happened a while ago, back when Twitter did show tweets on its front page, but nowadays it does not. Second, I'd be shocked if anyone really used Twitter's front page without an account to find links. Instead, it sounds like people who actually followed Hardy saw her tweet in their views from the site -- which wouldn't have anything to do with Twitter making any kind of editorial choice at all. Even if it was back under the (very) old system when Twitter did display some tweets, I'm pretty sure those were just random tweets from the stream. Arguing that Twitter has any real selection choice in those is pretty ridiculous.

Furthermore, it appears from the description in the article that the tweet from Hardy didn't even name Meggitt. Perhaps it did elsewhere, but the tweet repeated in the Sydney Morning Herald just says:
Her tweet read: ''I name and shame my 'anonymous' internet bully. Liberating business! Join me,'' with a link to her blog, where she incorrectly named Mr. Meggitt as the author of ''ranting, hateful'' articles about her.
In other words, it's unclear if even the tweet itself should be considered defamatory, rather than the blog post. Linking to a defamatory blog post should never be seen as defamatory itself. Either way, it seems we're getting even further and further away from any actually defamatory statement. If Twitter somehow is liable for defamatory comments written on a blog because someone then tweets a link to that blog, Twitter is going to become a hell of a lot less useful.

While Meggitt claims that he's not subject to Twitter's terms of service, since he doesn't use it, that's meaningless. The issue has nothing to do with Twitter's terms of service. It has to do with who's the actual liable party and that would be the person who made the defamatory statements. And, from everything that's been said, it sure likes like Meggitt has already settled the claim with that party...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Travis, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:00am

    Idiots

    Next we can sue the phone company for those telemarketers, and the postal carrier for all the junk mail they give us. Who else can we sue next...?

     

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  2.  
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    Keii (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:24am

    Re: Idiots

    Religion for evil.

     

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  3.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:29am

    Re: Re: Idiots

    Governments for being incompetently evil!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:30am

    They realize it

    I think most of the people and their lawyers who bring these kinds of suits realize service providers should not have liability in this manner, but they are hoping the jury won't realize it, and/or they are just fishing for a settlement sans trial. Also some people are trying to expand the definition of copyright infringement (or in this case libel/slander) through the civil court system.

     

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  5.  
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    Joshua, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:46am

    Did I miss something?

    Agree with you wholeheartedly, but this jumped out at me:

    "While Meggitt claims that he's not subject to Twitter's terms of service, since he doesn't use it"

    Didn't he use (read) it to file the motion? Wouldn't that make him subject to the ToS?

     

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  6.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:49am

    Re: Re: Idiots

    This makes me wish for a button called "Unfunny, ignorant, and bigoted"

     

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  7.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    While the comment may be flippant, I think it could be well argued that without religion pointing out what is considered 'good' there could be no 'evil.'

     

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  8.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 10:01am

    Re: Did I miss something?

    Did the site direct him to the ToS upon initial viewing? This is as bad as those 'if you open this you agree to the ToS contained within (that we all know you haven't read, because you don't have x-ray vision! bwahahah)' products.

     

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  9.  
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    sneeje, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Yes, and it could be argued that there would be no stupidity without republicans or greed without capitalists either, but that would be equally ignorant.

    Unless you are going to argue that the entirety of philosophy would not exist without religion, the definition of good and evil has been explored and attempted definition there as well.

    I am amazed continually that people try so hard to ignore human nature and blame the products (e.g. Organization) of human nature instead.

    Think about it. Are we really saying that no pedophiles would exist if it weren't for religion? Or, are you saying that pedophilia is only evil because of religion and without religion it would be just fine?

     

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  10.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 10:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    But in philosophy, is the definition/concept explored in relation to religion? It's one of those things that we can't really fathom the non-existence of simply because we are truly incapable of conceiving of it without the context of having it.

    Human nature is not good or evil in and of itself. We can only make judgement's based upon our current conception of morality.

    No, we aren't saying that no pedophiles would exist, only that it wouldn't be considered evil without something to compare it to. In a world where people ate babies, I'm sure a pedophile would be considered a step up. Don't try and polarize the argument with the children - you don't accept it when that is used to validate SOPA, so why should it be acceptable for this discussion?

    I always remind myself that not too long ago it was wrong to let women and black people vote, and that was perfectly moral at the time. Even people viewed widely as 'good' felt that way.

    I trust you understand that this isn't to fly in the face of any morality of today, but to make us actually consider why we find something evil or good - not just because someone says so.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:09am

    Defamation

    Keep in mind that defamation is not something easy to determine. An opinion is not defamation because it's just an opinion. Anything obviously untrue isn't defamation because an ordinary person wouldn't believe it anyway. Anything that is obviously true would not be defamation because, well, it's true.

    That leaves you with statements that MIGHT be true, which would require a thorough investigation for Twitter to know if they are defamatory. "John Doe assaulted me yesterday" - how is Twitter supposed to know if that is defamation, or a true statement? Even a grand jury with the power to compell testimony may never find the truth. So how is Twitter, who has no knowledge of any of the invovled parties, supposed to determine this?

     

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  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    "Think about it. Are we really saying that no pedophiles would exist if it weren't for religion? Or, are you saying that pedophilia is only evil because of religion and without religion it would be just fine?"

    Good & evil are inherently religious concepts, so without religion there would be no good & evil. Right & wrong, however, are not inherently religious concepts.

    Without religion, pedophilia would not be "evil," but it would remain wrong & abhorrent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Ok, great. So what? So, we're blaming religion for evil, but not for wrong. Exactly what is the value of that distinction?

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:22am

    Less useful?

    "If Twitter somehow is liable for defamatory comments written on a blog because someone then tweets a link to that blog, Twitter is going to become a hell of a lot less useful."

    Are you thinking they will just disable all links? That won't help, unless they want to monitor every tweet for defamation. I think the linking issue is seperate from the issue that Twitter can be liable for a tweet in the first place.

    The only way the linking comes into play is if somehow Twitter removes directly defamatory tweets but not tweets with defamatory links - and I can't imagine that they have such a policy.

    But I suppose your statement was technically true - if Twitter is liable for its users' tweets, then it will be "less useful" because it will be sued into oblivion.

     

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  15.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    I get it, I really do, but to me, this discussion is the worst part of philosophy. Its intellectual masturbation. Great, so good and evil only exist because we defined them so, and morality derived mostly from religion throughout history.

    Yet, selfishness, greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, altrusim, love, etc. have existed since long before any of that.

    So, fine, I'll grant that religion was the source of our concept of evil, as long as we also grant that religion is not the source of the behaviors that are often characterized as evil. To me the latter is ludicrous. Even Richard Dawkins would agree with that.

    And we can agree that as we go forward into the future society's perception of certain actions will change (and so will religion's for that matter).

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:36am

    And some additional irony

    Even when Hardy thought Meggitt was publishing "ranting, hating" articles about her, she did not attempt to sue him for defamation over it - instead, she just (incorrectly)named him publicly. But Hardy not only sues her, he sues Twitter.

    (And guys, as much as I enjoy a good philosophical debate, you're kinda off topic here, don't you think?)

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 11:58am

    And another thing

    "Hardy and Meggitt have already "settled" the dispute between each other, with a rumored $15,000 changing hands,"

    So why is he now going after Twitter? Didn't he collect his damages? If he didn't get the full value, that's his own fault for settling low.

    And if Twitter DOES get sued, I'm sure their TOS allows them to turn right around and sue Hardy. This makes the settlement dishonest - Meggitt tells Hardy she only has to pay a certain amount, and then he takes actions which will result in her indirectly paying him again... except this time, she can't directly oppose him in court because he's technically suing someone else.

     

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  18.  
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    Bengie, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Medium

    Any cases against a communications medium should be thrown out unless said medium is itself doing something.

     

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  19.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Oh, I agree with you 100% that religion is not the cause of the behaviour. That would be just silly. How can something we created be the cause of the behaviour that created it?

    And for the record, I like masturbating... intellectually of course ;)

     

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  20.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Ummm... depends on how you use right and wrong. As for abhorrent, that is also a judgement call. Just because it happens to be a very common one by today's standards doesn't change that it is based on today's standards.

    To me the important part of discussions like these is that it gives us opportunity to understand and articulate our beliefs and positions. If you never had to justify something, how would you truly understand it?

    I once thought I was 100% pro-choice... until I was made to sit down and articulate my thoughts and beliefs, and it turns out I have a lot more pro-life in me than I thought. But before that discussion, I was 100% certain where I stood. And it was truly sandy ground I had built my belief on.

    I relish the opportunity to be proven wrong. Always.

     

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  21.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Nice. ;)

    I realize I misunderstood the meaning behind your first post--I was focused on Keii's post, which I do think was positing religion as the cause, despite its humorous intent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    btrussell (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    "It has to do with who's the actual liable party and that would be the person who made the defamatory statements."

    Until you agree to censor. By agreeing to censor, you are taking responsibility of what is seen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2012 @ 2:53pm

    I can't speak to the motives of the various parties, but a lot of the interest in this case is about the potential gaps in Australian law -- there's no explicit US-style safe harbor provision, for example.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    No, I'm not blaming religion for evil. I'm saying that evil is a religious concept. The distinction is that "evil" refers to something that is wrong because a god of some sort said it is. Something is "wrong" because people said it is. Evil is always wrong (if you share the beliefs that have defined "evil") but wrong is not always evil.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 21st, 2012 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Indeed! If you are 100% certain about a position, any position, then you have not understood the issue completely enough. Also, it my firm belief that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Lauriel (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 12:38am

    Re: Medium

    What? With all that case law against pen and typewriter manufacturers to fall back on?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 5:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Idiots

    Fair enough.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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