This article discusses a lawsuit between a landlord and a tenant for comments that the tenant made about the landlord on Twitter. The offending post was:
"Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay," Amanda Bonnen wrote in her Twitter feed May 12 at 9:08 a.m.
The court ended up dismissing the lawsuit Wednesday because the plaintiff could not prove an essential element of the case, which is that you must show that the comments made are specifically against the Plaintiff. The court felt that Amanda's use of "Horizon" was too vague to give rise to a libel lawsuit.
The case is an excellent example of why you have to be careful when posting things on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. People have a tendency to vent their frustrations on these sites and many people will play fast and loose with the facts and the wording. Sometimes these posts can expose you to liability. Particularly, since these postings involve written rather than oral assertions, what you post online can expose you to a libel claim.
Slander and libel both involve making false statements of fact against a person or organization to a third party that harms the reputation of the person or organization. The difference between slander and libel is that slander is oral defamation while libel is written defamation. Therefore, if you post false information about someone on your Facebook wall you are 2/3 of the way to committing libel. The third element is that there needs to be actual harm to the person. HOWEVER, there are some exceptions.
There are some false statements that are so outside the bounds of decency that the law automatically assumes that harm is caused. These kind of false statements include:
- Loathsome diseases (AIDS, Herpes, etc.)
- A criminal act
- Dishonesty in business
Therefore, if you post on Twitter that someone cheated on their wife, or has AIDS, knowing it is false, you have committed libel and that person does not have to prove specific damages and can instead collect general damages. For example, the court could assess $10,000 of damages against you without the plaintiff having to prove that they sustained $10,000 worth of damages.
As more and more avenues for us to communicate our thoughts to the world become available, we have to keep in mind that there can be consequences to the things we may innocently write on the Internet. It doesn't matter if you post something and then take it down later, as soon as you post it is published for the world to see. So please be careful what you say, otherwise your Facebook status message could land you in front of a judge!