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Defamation By Twitter?

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There is an interesting article this week by FindLaw‘s Julie Hilden, addressing a fascinating case of “Twitter Defamation.”  The lawsuit was brought on December 28 in Florida against Kim Kardashian by Dr. Sanford Siegal on behalf of himself and the company through which he distributes his COOKE DIET® products.

To spice up this blog post, I attempted to find a reasonably decent photograph of Ms. Kardashian because, frankly, I did not know who the woman was.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find a picture of her in a reasonably short amount of time, as it appears that she makes her living going to and fro in various states of undress modeling herself.  Therefore, I think it is better that you link to Ms. Kardashian’s official website here.

According to Hilden’s article, citing the complaint filed in the case, the dispute appears to have started as a misunderstanding.  Siegal’s company relied on third party statements that Kardashian was on the COOKIE DIET®.  Kardashian was not, and apparently took great offense to the suggestion that she was on the diet.  The complaint alleges that Kardashian tweeted at least the following tweets:

  • “Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet is falsely promoting that I’m on this diet. NOT TRUE! I would never do this unhealthy diet! I do Quick Trim!”
  • “If this Dr. Siegal is lying about me being on this diet, what else are they lying about? Not cool!”

As Hilden points out, the issues raised by the lawsuit are far from clear, but have potentially broad scope.  For example, is saying that a product is “unhealthy” a statement of fact or opinion?  Hilden opines that a court is more likely to find the statement to be Kardashian’s opinion rather than one of fact.  Unfortunately, Kardashian did not adequately protect herself in citing at least a few facts upon which she based her statement.  Therein lies two problems this lawsuit highlights about Twitter.

First, Twitter’s 140-character limit is the foundation of its speed; indeed, it is hard to imagine that it would function as it does if the limits were higher.  Unfortunately, with speed, comes the likelihood of error, and that is what Kardashian did in this case – she erred in quickly tweeting her indignation about being on the COOKIE DIET®.

Second, Twitter’s 140-character limit does not provide adequate leeway for a tweeter to state things like facts supporting their opinion.  Therefore, users might exercise caution in using the limited space of a tweet to make emphatic statements about another person or product.

For example, Kardashian would have been better served had she prepared a press release off the Twitter platform and then tweeted the existence of the press release on Twitter with an appropriate link.  A press release would have provided her with the ability to explain her statements as opinions and provide support for them.  It could have easily been a link back to her website, a far more superior way for a celebrity to take issue with false information about him or her.  Tiger Woods‘ attempts in this regard, though perhaps mis-guided given the subject matter of his case, illustrate that a press release makes a better format for this sort of information-sharing than does Twitter.

Unfortunately, I fear that my advice may go unheeded in the celebrity world.  As I was writing this blog post, one of my news feeds informed me that rapper Bow Wow tweeted while drunk, and from behind the wheel.  Sigh!  You can link to an article discussing this specimen of intellect here.

Meanwhile, for those of you interested in the Kardashian case, I have downloaded the complaint to the Box.net widget on the site.  This is a new feature, and for those of you who follow my Civil Rights and Wrongs blog, you will note that I use the Box often and find that it is useful for sharing large documents or other information that does not work well in the body of a blog post.

We will be keeping our eye on the Kardashian/Cookie Case here at Cyber, and will report on any developments that occur.  For now, be careful with those tweets, people, and caution your clients to do the same.

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3 comments on “Defamation By Twitter?

  1. Do you have a site feed I can save? I searched around but cannot

    Like

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