Commentary

Judge Throws Out Twitter Libel Suit

A judge in Chicago has thrown out a landlord's defamation lawsuit complaining about a disgruntled tenant's Twitter post.

Judge Diane Larsen ruled that the alleged post -- "Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay" -- was "nonactionable as a matter of law."

Larsen didn't elaborate in her dismissal order (available, along with the other court papers, at the Citizen Media Law Project). But the tenant, Amanda Bonnen, had argued that the post's "social and literary context" demonstrated that it was an opinion and not a factual assertion. Only statements of fact can be libelous.

In her legal papers, Larsen said that her other tweets -- statements like "All of these people eating at McDonald's is making me want to hurl," and "To run or not to run? The temp says 93. I might die out there" -- proved that her Twitter posts were "rambling hyperbole" and not statements of fact.

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The landlord countered by calling the court's attention to the libel lawsuit against celebrity Courtney Love based on statements she made on Twitter. In that case, a judge ruled that the allegations against Love were sufficient to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

But Love's alleged tweets were very different than Bonnen's post. Love didn't make just one apparently spontaneous remark, but allegedly tweeted a string of detailed accusations against designer Dawn Simorangkir. Among others, Love allegedly wrote that the Austin, Texas police "are more than ecstatic" to pick up Simorangkir because she "has a history of dealing cocaine, lost all custody of her child, assault and burglary."

In theory, people can defame others on Twitter the same as they can defame them in a blog post, book or news article. But as the Bonnen case shows, at least some judges think that not every snarky statement made online should result in litigation.

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