For the first time ever in the U.S., a tweet has led to a libel trial (http://tinyurl.com/kj37y4m ). Singer-actress Courtney Love is being sued by her former lawyer Rhonda Holmes for claiming in a June 2010 tweet Holmes was “bought off” when she refused to help Love in a fraud case.
The L.A. Superior Court trial could set a landmark precedent in how social media posts are treated under libel law. The precedent could affect everyone on social media and everyone ever targeted in the posts there.
Every time you post something to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, you are in the publishing business. In my view, there is no justifiable reason for anyone to avoid liability simply because it is the Internet. If you publish something that is false that harms someone (the definition of libel), what difference does it make where you did it? A 1996 federal law protects the Internet provider (Twitter) from any liability because they are not the ones writing the post.
Love, by the way, has been sued before over a tweet. She ended the case with a fashion designer before the trial started with a $430,000 settlement.
Regardless of how the trial ends, keep the following in mind:
You are entitled to any opinion you wish, without legal reprisal, but make sure the opinion is not an accusation or claims “facts” that are not true. The first defense against libel will never change — the truth.
The law aside, also consider the moral implications of your posts. Measure your post against this standard: Would it be fair if someone did this to me?
Probably better advice than you’d get from Courtney.
The writer is a former TV news anchor who owns a public communications business and is an adjunct media professor at the College of St. Rose.