Though excellent tools for expression and brand marketing; a tweet can be a powerful method of expression. As the use of sites like Twitter and Facebook increase; it appears legal issues regarding what one posts are also on the rise. Laws and regulations about social networking are beginning to emerge as the legal system continues to see more cases involving defamation, fraud, and cyberbullying.
At a young age, many of us are often taught if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. This simple life lesson is often disregarded in the digital age and the results of a post could prompt one to seek legal advice. Based on your post, you might find yourself in front of a judge! Even if you delete the tweet, it is most likely someone has retweeted or shared it. Prior to making a post, consider if it may be defamatory to a third party. Also, the terms of us for the site because the information you disclose might not belong to you.
There have been several cases in the media about online defamation. One of the most sensational involved Courtney Love (Gordon & Holmes v. Love, No. BC462438), who tweeted an alleged defaming statement about one of her attorneys. The attorney responded with a lawsuit against Love. At trial, Love stated she intended to send a private direct message; but inadvertently tweeted the information. The jury ultimately found in favor of Love.
Fraudulent Twitter (and Facebook) account cases are becoming more prevalent as well. Celebrities, businesses, and even the average person can be the victims of a fake Twitter account. These accounts can create problems if the anonymous owner posts information that can be interpreted as misleading, controversial or libelous. Twitter currently is in the spotlight for trademark infringement because the Estate of James Dean wants ownership of the Twitter account @JamesDean. James Dean, Inc., et al v. Twitter, Inc., et al, No. 1:14-cv-00183, notice of removal (S.D. Ind., Feb. 7, 2014).
Cyberbullying has become a hot topic with Twitter and other social networking sites. The sites are used in an intrusive manner to expose private information or even fraudulent information about a person in an effort to cause humiliation or mental harm. Megan Meier and Ryan Halligan are perhaps the most famous cases of cyberbullying because each ended in tragedy. As recently as January 2014, cyberbullying via social media had been implicated in the attempted suicide of a rape victim in Maryville, Missouri. In State v. Bishop, a North Carolina teen became the first person in Alamance County to be convicted under the new state cyberbullying laws. The case is currently under appeal.
Not all situations with tweets involve defamation, fraud or cyberbullying. Tweets are now being used as tools for employers to screen potential employees or make personal changes. Earlier this year, a young advertising executive lost her job because of an inadvertent tweet she posted as a joke prior to boarding a flight to Africa. Unfortunately her employer did not find it funny and she lost her job before her flight even landed.
The power of the pen is not a new concept to society; yet we should exercise more caution with online posts because the ramifications might be more than you expected.
If you need additional information about the impact of social networking communication, please contact Attorney Mark Ishman at the Ishman Law Firm at (919) 468-3266 or mishman @ ishmanlaw.com.