Friday, March 18, 2011

Libel on Twitter

A NBA ref has joined the parade of persons suing over defamation via Twitter. In this case, an Associated Press reporter sent out a real-time message about a call during a NBA game that resulted in some blowback on the referee. Kim Kardashian is being sued in Florida for a tweet about a particular diet plan.

So, does it have to be true to Tweet?

In England, it will cost you as the first judgment for libel damages was awarded last week. Some more commentary regarding that situation and others. This is interesting as it contrasts the loss in the blogger case against another where pseudonyms were used and the person was able to say whatever. Or, to quote:

if you post something libellous on Twitter about a local rival politician, and have only 30 followers, you can get sued. If you say something potentially libellous, using a pseudonym, on a UK newspaper site, with page views in the millions, you’re fine – that’s just “pub talk”.

We should not be surprised. You become a publisher the moment you begin writing for the world to see. A major difference is what you can seek to achieve. Those with assets are more careful -- ie, brick-and-mortar traditional media have plenty to risk -- and the problem is the random blogger may have nothing more to their name than the cell phone they made the comment with. Certainly those with means have been known to SLAPP opponents to silence them -- if you can't afford to go to court, you better shut up.

Still, the ref brings up an interesting point. Fans yell, coaches complain, but that evaporates into ether, held only in the memories of those who heard it. When a media member reports it, it lasts forever. The NBA appears to be siding with the media in a bit of a "get over it" response, but it begs the question: if it wasn't good enough to put in the story, why tweet it? We give more and more opinion as journalists, and wasn't that the point of some recent commentary that this shouldn't be happening?

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