For many years now, it has been uncertain whether a tweet could constitute libel. The short nature of tweets and the level of non-seriousness attached to tweets, which are classified as everyday rants and ramblings of ordinary people suggest that tweets should not be held as facts, hence, cannot be defamatory.
The uncertainty in this sphere of social media and then law has been settled, so better watch what you say on twitter because a tweet can be defamatory.
Case laws from jurisdictions such as England & Wales, New Zealand and U.S.A seem to have settled the question whether a tweet can constitute libel in the affirmative.
A recent libel case brought by Chris Cairns who played cricket for England and New Zealand has won him £90,000 in libel damages over a tweet of 24 words sent by Lalit Modi.
Chris sued Lalit Modi, chairman and commissioner of the Indian Premier League over a tweet the latter sent, stating that, the former “had been sacked from an Indian cricket league team because of match fixing”, contrary to Cairns claim of knee injury.
Chris Cairns successfully argued in court that, the above tweet from Lalit Modi was libellous since it completely destroyed him within the cricket community.
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Chris Cairns’ case may be the most recent high profile twitter libel lawsuit but it is certainly not the first.
Fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir in 2011 brought a twitter libel case against musician-Courtney Love for sending out a defamatory tweet in 2009, a tweet Dawn claimed ruined her career in the fashion industry. Courtney Love was compelled to pay over £262,000 to settle the case.
It has not all been about libel and monetary compensation. Your tweets can cause you to legally be fired from your job or even be refused a visa or entry into a country.
Two teenagers who were looking to have a holiday fun in U.S.A recently were shocked to have been refused entry because of a tweet they sent saying “we are going to destroy America”.
Also, few days ago in Britain, a man was arrested after allegedly tweeting a racist comment about Fabrice Muamba, the footballer who suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed during a recent live match.
For those who think they can hide behind a pc or phone, and therefore their tweets can be as malicious as they want, you must rethink. You can easily be located.
The courts have the power to subpoena Twitter Inc. to release your entire information, thereby unveiling your hidden identity. The UK court recently took this step and subpoenaed twitter to release the names, locations, I.P addresses, etc of people who breached the Ryan Giggs infidelity super-injunction.
So you see, the law is getting tougher each day on social media users and abusers, especially celebrities who can easily be identified. The next time you push the SEND button on twitter, remember the law has changed and your tweet can fetch you a ‘gargantuan’ legal problem.