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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can Twitter Land You In Court?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 7:47 AM


I saw recently in the news that Courtney Love is being sued for tweeting. Could that happen to me, even if I don't have a lot of followers? If so, how can I avoid that?

~Avoiding a Twasuit

Well first, for those not intimately tracking Courtney Love's every electronic move like I am, let me provide some back story. Love got into a tiff with fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, who said that Love owed her a few thousand dollars for clothes. Love then took it to the tweets and, using language that her lawyer described as "colorful," called Simorangkir a "drug-pushing prostitute." Love also tweeted: "She has received a VAST amount of money from me over 40,000 dollars and I do not make people famous and get raped TOO!" You hear that, Simorangkir? It's one or the other, not both! Now she's suing Love for defamation, claiming that Love's tweets, MySpace comments and even, oddly, her Etsy comments, irreparably damaged her career.

Love had 40,000 Twitter followers at the time, though now her account has been suspended, probably due to the trial, which starts in a few weeks. The more followers you have, the bigger the impact, which can presumably be used against you in a defamation lawsuit. But, even if you have 20 followers, that might not stop someone from trying to sue the shit out of you, as one Chicago woman tweeting about her landlord found out in 2009. That lawsuit was dismissed however, and the property company, Horizon Group Management, wasn't successful in milking her for $50,000 over a tweet, proving that sanity does still exist, even in the off-season of Glenn Beck rallies.

The most important thing you can do to avoid being sued is this: Don't be an asshole. If that sounds too daunting for you, here are some concrete rules to follow straight from the whale's mouth (or paraphrased rather, to include expletives). Also, these tips might not necessarily prevent you from getting sued, but they will help you not get booted from Twitter, which is far more important, obviously. 

1. New rules about taking screenshots of other people's tweets. Well, it's not new per se, but here's a statement from Twitter on TechCrunch that clarifies the issue: "Public tweets are public. But if you're going to use tweets in static form (e.g. in a publication), you should have permission from the author/user. For instance, if someone famous were to tweet about liking something and then it was used on a billboard." So you can screencap Kanye West's glorious missives all the livelong day, just don't use them to sell Vitamin Water.

2. Don't impersonate people "in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others." I can personally attest to the havoc wreaked upon my psyche when I discovered @WilfordBrimley1 was not who he said he was. 

3. Don't violate Trademark law, aka don't use business names or logos that aren't yours.

4. Don't publicly post other people's private information, like phone numbers, mailing addresses, credit card info, etc. This is the modern revenge equivalent of scrawling your ex's number on the bathroom stall of some seedy dive bar for every barfy hipster to see. Don't do it.

5. Don't threaten to use violence against people. Duh. 

6. Don't use Twitter to promote illegal activities, like bragging about the endangered monkey you smuggled in from Thailand or the delightful evening you spent chained up in some dominatrix's basement. That's what we have blogs for. And Craigslist.

7. Don't steal other people's shit. Twitter takes copyright infringement seriously, and so should you. 

For further examples of how to not be an asshole on Twitter, read this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Twebate to settle with Susan Boyle about jeggings. 

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @SFWeekly 

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