Monday, January 25, 2010

UPDATE: Chicago Judge Bounces Libel Claim Against Tweeting Tenant

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen last week dismissed a defamation claim brought last July by Horizon Group Management, a Chicago-based property firm, against former tenant Amanda Bonnen concerning a tweet she sent to her 20 followers.

Last May, Bonnen, who has since closed her Twitter account, tweeted in response to a leaky roof in her former Horizon-managed residence: "Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay." Horizon sued for defamation, claiming her public tweet constituted libel per se.

Judge Larsen disagreed, dismissing the claim with prejudice, holding the tweet was too vague to meet the libel standard.  Horizon faced a significant challenge, not only in proving Bonnen made a false statement of fact that harmed Horizon's reputation, but also in showing that a tweet satisfied the "publication" element of defamation.

Bonnen dodged a bullet, but the still unsettled area of defamation in the social media arena is fraught with peril. For example, had some of Bonnen's small cadre of followers "re-tweeted" her message, would that have exposed them to libel liability? Devoted "TUOL" readers know that a mere 140 characters could cause a lot of trouble in the hands of a careless Twitterer.

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