Investigative Journalist Claims Her Public Tweets Aren't 'Publishable;' Threatens To Sue Blogger Who Does Exactly That

from the hubristupidity! dept

Update: In case this isn't enough, there's a follow up to this story, as Teri Buhl is apparently not a fan of our writeup.

Choose your battles carefully. This warning/advice is more relevant than ever in an era of instant feedback, social media and thousands of pages of "relevant results" microseconds away. Here's a small story of how not to deal with a problem caused by your own actions.

Mark Bennett, a Houston criminal defense lawyer, was recently pointed in the direction of a rather inexplicable statement attached to a Twitter profile. Teri Buhl, an investigative journalist specializing in Wall Street, has this wording on her profile page:

A friend of Bennett's (@gideonstrumpet) asked, "What does that mean?" Buhl replied:


Gideon sensibly replied "ok thanks. I don't know how you prevent that, though. I could write a post quoting you."

At this point, Buhl went "legal," responding that she would sue him because she "stated" her tweets are not "on record comments." And she certainly could, although one wonders who would take her case. Gideon asked for a few second opinions on the legality of Buhl's claim, and got answers from these two gentlemen whose names are likely familiar to Techdirt regulars, Marc Randazza and Popehat.


So, we have someone thinking their public tweets are private property, and therefore lawsuit-bait if anyone attempts to "quote" them. While Twitter's TOS assures users that their Tweets are their property, it's quite another thing to state something publicly and then claim you don't want it quoted. Would a retweet be a violation of Buhl's statement? After all, it's a "direct quote" originating from another account. What about embedding the tweet? Still a problem? Even if Buhl's claim wasn't baseless, she'd still have a hell of a time enforcing it. If you don't want something you said going public, why on earth would you use a very public platform like Twitter to say it?

It gets uglier from there, though. Buhl decided to continue her legal threats via email shortly after Mark Bennett posted screencaps of her tweets.


This prompted Bennett to do a little digging. For someone who's so concerned with retaining strict control of her information, Buhl certainly doesn't seem to mind throwing around other people's information -- even the contents of a teenage girl's personal journal.
A New Canaan woman police say posted personal and sexually explicit information on Facebook about her boyfriend's 17-year-old daughter was arraigned Tuesday in state Superior Court on charges of second-degree harassment, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with an officer.

Teri Buhl, 38, of 81 Locust Ave., appeared briefly before Judge Maureen D. Dennis with her lawyer, Christopher W. Caldwell of Norwalk...

Buhl surrendered on Oct. 27 at New Canaan police headquarters after learning that a warrant had been obtained for her arrest. She was released after posting a $5,000 bond.
Here's how Buhl allegedly set about "publishing" someone else's much more private "statements:"
A look at the documents that led to the warrant and arrest tells a disturbing story of Web-based strong-arming and privacy invasion from a woman who knew her victim and attempted to disguise her own identity.

New Canaan police Youth Bureau Commander Sgt. Carol Ogrinc said in an affidavit that the girl and her father, Paul Brody, came to police June 24 to report that someone using the name 'Tasha Moore' had posted personal notes from the girl's journal on Facebook.

The girl said she kept the journal in her dresser drawer in her bedroom, and that she wrote the notes shown on Facebook last April. The girl said she had replied to the e-mail address provided by Moore on her Facebook page, and had told Moore to stop posting personal information about her or she would contact police.

Moore reportedly answered that she welcomed the legal action and knew the girl's father was a corporate lawyer. Moore said she didn't think the girl would contact police because then her father would find out about the embarrassing information from the journal, according to Ogrinc's statement.
As Bennett points out, it's apparently OK to publicly post information from a minor's personal journal, but not OK to post a public Teri Buhl tweet anywhere else on the internet.

Buhl has finally done what she should have done a long time ago and taken her account private. This will likely be the end of this story as Buhl has probably realized she's on very shaky ground. (This belated tweet captured via her page at Muck Rack seems to confirm this.)


With a trial date set for March 22nd, she may not have time to fight another legal battle. Not only that, but if she's going to go after "republishers" like Bennett and Gideon, she's also going to need to free up time to go after less human foes like favstar, Topsy and yfrog.

Here's a suggestion: don't antagonize people by attaching implicit legal threats to your public profile. All it does is attract the kind of attention you don't want -- for instance, another public airing of your alleged illegal actions. It doesn't win you any new friends or followers and it certainly does very little to raise anyone's estimation of you. Instead, it makes you look like exactly what you are -- someone who's going to slip into "sue" mode at the drop of a tweet.

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