Good F#%*ing News for Twibel Defendant
A recent decision from a federal court in Massachusetts is the latest word on “twibel.” Twibel is made up word to describe “Twitter libel.” It is similar, I guess the term “framily” which is the subject of those incredibly bizarre Sprint commercials that seemed to run every 5 minutes during the NCAA tournament. I have a hard time fathoming how a commercial like that makes it to the airwaves. I mean some creative type at an ad agency had to conceive it, then some supervisor there had to green light it, and then I assume at least a few folks at Sprint had to approve it. I can’t believe someone in that chain didn’t say “this is the dumbest piece of crap I’ve ever seen.” Did I mention I hate it?
But I digress. Mara Feld apparently arranged for her horse “Munition” to be shipped to a horse farm. Somehow, Munition wound up being sold at a horse auction and possibly slaughtered in Canada. These events became the subject of conversation on social media, culminating in a tweet from a woman named Crystal Conway that said “Mara Feld aka Gina Holt – you are f***ing crazy” (except it was the unedited version). Crazy or not, Ms. Feld filed a libel suit. She claimed that the tweet defamed her because it constituted “an unexplained indictment of [her] sanity.”
But Ms. Feld’s case met a fate similar to Munition’s – the court dismissed it at the earliest possible stage. The court ruled Ms. Feld could not establish libel because, in the context of the social media conversation, it was clear Conway’s comment was not a serious diagnosis of mental illness. It was, what we media lawyers like to call, hyperbole. In other words, the statement (and especially this one when taken in context) is so over the top it’s not intended that anyone take it literally. The lesson here? Sometimes in libel the best advice is “go big or go home.”
And the case points once more to the fact that new technology doesn’t necessarily mean new law. The notion that hyperbolic speech isn’t libel was around when a tweet was nothing more than a sound a bird made. In other words, the fact that Conway made her statement in less than 140 characters really isn’t all that relevant here. She’d have probably gotten the same result if she’d written it the sky.