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Possible Defense to Twitter Suits: Tweets Aren’t Taken Seriously

Posted Oct 8, 2009 7:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A few defamation suits are being filed and threatened over short 140-character rants posted to Twitter, spurring one First Amendment expert to suggest a defense: Tweets shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams suggested the possible defense in an interview with the New York Times. Abrams said defamation and libel laws apply to Twitter just as they do the traditional media. “But I would think that a defendant might argue that the language used on Twitter is understood to not be taken as seriously as is the case in other forms of communication,” Abrams said.

The article said two suits have already been filed over Twitter posts. One was filed by a fashion designer who sued Courtney Love for calling her a liar and a thief in a dispute over costumes being created for the singer. Another was filed for by a Chicago landlord over a tenant’s tweets about a moldy apartment.

In a third dispute, blogger Perez Hilton claimed defamation in a public spat with Demi Moore but never filed a lawsuit. On Twitter, Moore had claimed Hilton was flouting child porn laws by posting a revealing photo of her daughter; Hilton in turn claimed Moore was an inept mother.

Lawyer Bryan Freedman represents the designer who sued Love as well as Perez Hilton. He told the Times that tweets are protected from liability as long as they represent opinion. But he agreed that tension arises from the way people are using Twitter. “I’m not saying it is right or wrong,” Freedman said, “but I think we are seeing a blurring of lines between nastiness and free speech.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “To Avoid Libel Litigation, Lawyer Advises, Don’t Tank Up and Tweet”

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