Twitter Defamation Plaintiffs: She Started It

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By Brian Kumnick on July 29, 2009 1:45 PM

Microblogging site Twitter appears to have reached a cultural-awareness milestone: people are now suing each other over comments posted there. Today the story of the big, bad landlord and the put-upon tenant has shifted once again, as the landlord tries to shift blame to its allegedly litigious tenant.

The story so far: back in May, Twitter user and then-Horizon Realty tenant Amanda Bonnen complained via tweet that her landlord was apparently allowing her to live in mold-infested filth: "Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay." The response this month from Horizon: lawsuit! A short complaint filed in Cook County court last week accused Bonnen of libeling Horizon in 140 characters or less, and sought $50,000 in damages.

Reaction on Twitter and in the blogosphere was predictably incredulous. Not only did this sound like a severe overreaction to a minor complaint made to about 20 Twitter followers; Horizon's own spokesman fanned the flames with an instant-classic quote, declaring his family's company a "sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Realizing that it had clearly shot itself in the foot, and being accused left and right of completely failing to "get" new media,  Horizon yesterday backed up its story a bit with a press release. In it, spokesman Jeff Michael first apologizes for his "sue first" quote (too bad: that line was the best thing about this whole story), and then proceeds to a classic playground defense: She Started It.

According to Horizon, Bonnen sued Horizon in June under Chicago's landlord-tenant laws, for reasons that are not made clear, but that may have to do with Bonnen's mold allegations. In responding to the suit, Horizon turned up the now-infamous Twitter update and decided it was worth a lawsuit all its own.

No doubt Horizon was initially thrilled to have found a little bit of leverage to use in responding to Bonnen's lawsuit. But with the public backlash they've suffered in the past two days, they may just be thinking of going for a bit more of an "ask questions first, then maybe don't sue at all" kind of approach.