There have been famous cases reported of those who lost their job because of a tweet or even have a viral negative campaign spread about their company from a tweet. Now your tweets may show up as evidence as part of a defamation case in the court of law.
It has always been rumored, but never confirmed by anyone of course, that law enforcement agencies forced Facebook to open up their platform so that public investigators would get access to more information. Whether this is true or not we may never know, but my first eye-opener was when I was speaking at a local chamber of commerce in Los Angeles County and an LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) detective was in the room explaining how they had found evidence on Facebook regarding a homicide case that helped them find the potential suspect. This was back in 2009.
I always tell people, when considering what to tweet or share on any social media network, that once it’s on the Internet it’s all public information. Think about it: Even private Facebook messages that may contain photos meant only for you could be screen shot and then easily sent off to someone else or even uploaded to the Internet. It’s not just a matter of “You are What You Tweet” and your personal branding: If you say something that is defamatory in social media, you may very well in the future be facing a lawsuit.
In other words, the same media that helps your business be found as part of a social media strategy could very much work against you if you are not careful as to what you, or your employees, say online. This is just one of the important reasons why every company needs a social media policy.
The precedent for this will be the upcoming Courtney Love Twitter defamation case, which is set to go to trial on February 8. It was first reported recently by The Hollywood Reporter, but here is a quote directly from the original scoop:
Courtney Love was very upset.
The firebrand rocker had been locked in a dispute with Dawn Simorangkir, a fashion designer who was demanding payment for a few thousand dollars worth of clothes.
So on March 17, 2009, Love took to her Twitter account and began hurling a stream of shocking insults at the designer known as the “Boudoir Queen.” Love’s tweets, which instantly landed in the Twitter feeds of her 40,000 or so followers (and countless others via retweets), announced that Simorangkir was a drug-pushing prostitute with a history of assault and battery who lost custody of her own child and capitalized on Love’s fame before stealing from her. “She has received a VAST amount of money from me over 40,000 dollars and I do not make people famous and get raped TOO!” Love wrote.
That tirade, along with others the Hole frontwoman unleashed on social media platforms including MySpace and Etsy.com during the next four days, form the basis of a unique lawsuit headed to court in January: the first high-profile defamation trial over a celebrity’s comments on Twitter.
Now, I have a disclaimer to make here: I am a proud owner of Hole’s 1st CD, which is an alternative rock classic in its own right. But this is the law, and considering that Twitter is a search engine that is being searched on more than Bing and Yahoo these days, what one says on this or any other major social media platform, which would still include MySpace, is truly “public” information and could potentially end up as evidence in a defamation case in a court of law. Even Courtney Love’s apparent rants.
However, saying something negative and equating that statement to potential loss of business or other commercial damages will not be an easy task to prove.
Because of this, a “social media expert,” who is famous in the fields of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing), will appear in the trial. A tweet being the subject of a trial is one thing, but a “social media expert” being called on to convince a jury that Courtney Love’s rants on Twitter were received by the public in a way that supposedly would have affected their buying habits is certainly going to be a very challenging job for anyone. The Hollywood Reporter reported that the expert witness will be charged with
studying how many people saw the Love rants and what kind of credibility is given to statements made on a casual forum like Twitter.
On a side note, I sometimes work with CEOs and CMOs of companies, both large and small, who I need to teach what exactly a “tweet” is, so part of the challenge of the “social media expert” will undoubtedly be teaching the jury what exactly all of this social media stuff means and how it could be impactful. This in itself will require the experience of a patient and skilled educator.
I look forward to providing you with continuing updates on the proceedings and outcome of this defamation case as it could be the first time in the history of U.S. jurisprudence that a “testifying social media expert” is called upon as well as the first time a celebrity was sued because of a tweet. If the lawsuit is successful, though, it could be the start of a plethora of social media lawsuits to come…
Now will you start to care more about what you, your employees, and your children post on their Facebook profiles?
Photo Credit: Courtney Love at SXSW provided courtesy of whittlz via Flickr