Sued for retweets?

Interesting take on the recent landlord/tenant lawsuit over a defamatory tweet:

“Anyone who uses Twitter has probably had a tweet retweeted and can appreciate the dissemination potential on Twitter alone. When you add the ability to republish a single tweet on multiple services using 3rd party services like Posterous, Ping.fm and Hellotxt, the a defamatory tweet’s reach could grow exponentially. The effect of that could either exacerbate the harm or have little further effect at all. One of the elements of a defamation claim, at least in South Africa, is that the people receiving the defamatory comment will associate it with the plaintiff. This means the plaintiff must be known to those people. Retweeting a tweet to a million followers who have never heard of the plaintiff may have little effect on the harm the plaintiff suffers. On the other hand retweeting to a large group of people who are familiar with the plaintiff could have a significant effect on the plaintiff’s potential harm.

(Image credit: T.O.A by ^riza^ published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license)

This sort of case challenges one of the most common uses of social media, namely as s souped up word of mouth tool. Social media users actively use services like Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed to talk openly about brands, people and services. I am one of those people. There are times when these discussions are tremendously rewarding and those brands, people and services engage with their customers or critics. Cases like this one raise a question about the desirability of this practice although the ship may have sailed on that one. People have always talked amongst themselves and I doubt very much we will see a contraction of the social Web because of the threat of a lawsuit.”

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