“That lawyer is a scumbag!” “That doctor rips off his patients.” “My professor is a total pervert.” Be careful. Depending on what words you use, your Tweets could subject you to a lawsuit. Just ask Courtney Love.
In a landmark case, singer-actress Courtney Love is currently being sued for libel after what she tweeted in 2010. In that tweet, she wrote that her then lawyer, Rhonda Holmes, had been “bought off” when she wouldn’t assist Love with her lawsuit against the managers of Kurt Cobain’s estate. Cobain, as you probably know, is Love’s ex-husband and former Nirvana lead singer.
While there have been other similar lawsuits concerning Twitter libel, this is the first one to actually make it to trial in the United States. As a result, Love’s monumental case can have a huge impact on social media. The “average Joe tweeter” could find themselves in court facing defamation charges depending on how this case is decided.
In her defense, Love testified yesterday that what she tweeted was just her opinion. Also, she thought her tweet was just going to two people. Additionally, her lawyers argue that what she tweeted was just exaggeration and hyperbole. The internet, they maintain, are filled with similar types of comments.
Holmes sees it differently. She believes the false tweet significantly damaged her reputation. She maintains that there are those who now erroneously believe that she is the type of person who could be “bought off”/bribed.
It’s not just the Perez Hilton’s (outspoken celebrity blogger) of the world who should be concerned about the outcome of this case. All of us should. The outcome could have a significant impact on what we tweet in the future.
I’m not sure how this jury will rule. I can say that if it’s a close call, Love should be cut loose. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution affords us wide latitude to freely express how we feel. There are limits, however. If jurors find that Love was not simply expressing an opinion and rather, was stating a fact, she could be in trouble. Regardless of the outcome, it’s not a bad thing if this case causes more folks to think carefully before they tweet.