Archive for the ‘Defamation of Character’ Category
A recent tweet by Harmony Walton about a defamation suit against Courtney Love really caught my eye – I had already started this post, so the timing was perfect to get an update on the case surrounding Love’s March 2009 Twitter tirade against fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir. Love hurled a number of tweets containing insults directed at Simorangkir, including one stating “She [Simorangkir] has received a VAST amount of money from me over 40,000 dollars and I do not make people famous and get raped TOO!” According to The Hollywood Reporter, Love’s tweets allegedly branded Simorangkir as “a drug-pushing prostitute with a history of assault and battery who lost custody of her own child and capitalized on Love’s fame before stealing from her.”
At the time, Love had some 40,000 Twitter followers who were able to follow this nasty exchange, not to mention the countless retweets. Simorangkir decided to sue Love for defamation, claiming that Love’s tweets effectively ruined her reputation and business. The case, which is the first high-profile Twitter defamation of character matter, goes to trial in a few weeks.
I’m really excited to hear the outcome of this case (yes, I’m a nerd and these are the things that excite me). The body of law surrounding Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets is new and constantly evolving, and will become increasingly important due to the important role social media plays in our lives. In the wedding industry, Twitter and Facebook are important tools for your business, as well as interactive sites featuring vendor reviews and chat forums. These tools, while valuable, are also very public, which makes them potential landmines for issues like defamation. I often hear the terms “libel” and “slander” used interchangeably, but they’re actually not the same thing, so I thought I’d lay out the basics.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is a general term used when you don’t need to distinguish between libel and slander. Defamation, or defamation of character, is the passing along of false information that is stated as fact. In order to be considered defamation, the information must also: (1) Bring harm to either a person or an organization; and (2) Be told (in writing or verbally) to at least one other person than the victim. So, telling Jane the Florist to her face or in an email that she is “a rotten, lying thief” is not defamation. Telling other people that Jane is a rotten, lying thief could be defamation if the information harms Jane. In order to really be defamation of character, the information must be untrue, so if you call Jane Doe out publicly for being a liar and a thief, and Jane has already been found guilty of theft in a court of law, you’re probably not defaming her character. But publicly calling Jane a lying thief based upon your hunch about her, with no concrete evidence to back your theory up, is a quick and easy way to find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
What are Slander and Libel?
Slander is when the defamation is spoken, like when you tell people face-to-face that Jane the Florist is a lying thief. Libel is defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures. Writing on your blog or Twitter page that Jane is a lying thief could be libel. The only absolute defense to defamation of character, slander and libel is that the information given is true.
It’s very easy to take to your blog, Twitter page or an online chat forum to voice your frustrations about a person or a business, or to gossip about them with others face-to-face, and it seems to be common practice for some wedding and event industry pros. And keep in mind that you need not actually name the person or business explicitly to qualify as slander or libel if enough people are able to deduce the identity of the person or business being referenced. It’s also quite common for brides and grooms to voice their dissatisfaction about a wedding vendor or venue on a public forum like Yelp, the Knot or Project Wedding. This post is getting out-of-control-long, so I will have to address this kind of libel by clients in another post. I’m sure many of you have questions about what to do when a former client starts posting nasty things about your business practices and ethics.
The main thing I hope you take away from this post is that you really do need to be careful about what you say, who you say it to, and where you say it. The wedding and special events industry, while massive, is also a tight-knit community and things get around. The last thing you want to do is find yourself saddled with a defamation of character suit for a silly Tweet that you only gave a moment’s thought, or for a rumor started during griping at an industry networking function. Once that kind of information is on the Internet or circulating person-to-person, it’s almost impossible to extinguish.