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A Little Birdie Told Me...Twitter Libel Suit Dismissed

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on January 27, 2010 10:15 AM

As with so many trends, the celebs might start things off, but we civilians pick up on it soon enough. Last year saw the first ever libel suit via Twitter. As discussed in previous posts on FindLaw's Injured Blog, former Hole front woman Courtney Love Cobain was sued for a nasty 140 characters she warbled about a L.A. dress designer. That case is on-going. As of last Wednesday however, regular person Amanda Bonnen had her Twitter libel (coined "twibel" by smarties at the Citizen Media Law Project), case dismissed by a Chicago court.

This nasty bout of chirping arose from a dispute over a Chicago apartment building where Bonnen resided, and whose leaking problems lead to a class action lawsuit against the property company, Horizon Group Management. Horizon claims that all the actions were settled amicably except the one from Bonnen. On May 12, Bonnen tweeted, "Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay."

Then, as also discussed on FindLaw's Injured Blog, Horizon made the PR mistake of letting their "sue first and ask questions later" company culture known as they slapped Bonnen with the libel suit saying she "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet." Was the tweet flattering? No. Libelous? No, not that either.

According to the court's decision, plaintiff Horizon Group was not able to prove all the elements of libel as required by the law. One requirement is that the comment be made specifically about the plaintiff. Since Bonnen did not specify who she was dissing, much beyond the title "Horizon," it was too vague, according to Bonnen's lawyer, Leslie Ann Reis, director of the Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law at John Marshall Law School. In addition, the plaintiff must show the comments made were false and defamatory, with many states requiring the statements be more than just opinion, but linked to fact. If Bonnen's apartment did actually contain mold, the statement could have been true at one point. The requirement that the statement be published was met, via tweet. The final requirement necessary to prove libel is that the plaintiff show actual damages, i.e., harm to reputation or economic loss. It is unclear, but unlikely, that this was also proved to the court's satisfaction.

To actually meet all the requirements of libel as listed, one would have to choose those 140 characters very, very carefully. Another on-going example, again in celebrity-ville, from the promoters of the Cookie Diet who allegedly claimed celebutant Kim Kardashian as a fan. Kardashian disdainfully tweeted she would never be on such an "unhealthy diet." The Cookies sued. That case is working its way through the Florida courts.

Also, keep an eye on this potential fracas. According to the Consumerist, peeved over burger maven McDonald's use of one of their songs (with only an o.k. from their label, not the actual guys), the band Franz Ferdinand lashed out at the restaurant in a twisted tweet: "Dirty bastards. Stupid arrogant...[various epithets deleted]. I'd rather eat a cowpat on a bun than a bloody McDonalds."  Fact? Opinion? Twibel? You be the judge.

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