Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tweetsuits Multiply, Suing People For Tweets Going Mainstream

You may have read the story about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and his quest to sue Twitter over an impersonator's account. Recently that suit was dropped, though it marked a major reality check for the San Fransisco based micro-blogging service.

Now Chicago based Horizon Group Management has filed a $50,000 lawsuit against Amanda Bonnen, an individual with a paltry 20 followers, citing defamation for the following tweet:

The complaint filed in Cook County court states Ms. Bonnen "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet on Twitter, thereby allowing the Tweet to be distributed throughout the world."

Jeffrey Michael, representative of Horizon, is quoted in The Chicago Sun-Times as saying, "The statements are obviously false, and it's our intention to prove that. We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization"

The Twitter account of Chicago resident Amanda Bonnen has since been removed, and it is now known that the removal was voluntary. Horizon claims they did not ask or demand that the offending tweet be taken down. In addition Ms. Bonnen is no longer publicly listed on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Daliah Saper, Principal Attorney at Saper Law, provides ADMAVEN with the following legal analysis:

"140 characters can be enough to defame - false statements proven so can certainly be grounds for a defamation suit. In an ever litigious climate, I'd think twice before publishing anything accusatory online, tweet or otherwise. A good rule of thumb when considering legal risk on Twitter is proof of claim: can you back up your tweet with hard facts? If you legitimately believe you are stating an opinion grounded in truth, then be prepared to state your case if you get slapped with a Complaint and Summons and cross your fingers that the Judge agrees your posting was merely an opinion."

The idea of a company suing an individual for defamation on the Internet is not new. The recording industry, and more recently the film industry, have been pursuing cases against individuals violating digital copyright law for years, and consequently have been vilified in mainstream media and social media outlet alike.

Is it really the best tactic for a brand to sue for these types of statements? One might say it is important to protect the integrity of the brand, but at what cost? At this point in time, Horizon Group Management has multiple mentions on Twitter and national news outlets.

In a world of democratized distribution of information focused the individual is it wise for a brand to come down this hard on someone with a mere 20 followers on Twitter? As more brands begin monitoring social media outlets for mentions, they will have a clear choice: work with consumers or against them. From a marketing and public relations perspective history has taught us that fighting the consumer seldom produces a net positive effect for the brand.

UPDATES 7/30/09

A couple of notable write-ups on the story from Social Media Today and Ars Technica.

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