August 05, 2009

“Moldy” Twitter Post Draws Lawsuit

Yet another twitter post, this one by a Chicago tenant referring to an allegedly moldy apartment, draws a $50,000 lawsuit against the Twitterer for defamation.  As the tweet was reposted within Twitter and around the world, it provides a wealth of evidence as to not only the post itself, but its far reach across the Internet.

Both sides are going to lose in this suit, though.  According to the article, the original poster could very well lose the suit.  Even if she ultimately prevails, it's going to cost her dearly in defense fees.  Likewise, the realty management firm's statement to the the Chicago Sun-Times that "We're a sue-first, ask-questions-later kind of an organization" resulted in a "firestorm of criticism."  It's a harsh lesson that companies sometimes learn the hard way in responding to customer complaints in the online arena.  "This could generate bad press for them for years, and that wasn't (Bonnen's) doing," said Sarah Milstein, co-author of the just-released "The Twitter Book."  Who's going to want to rent from or otherwise do business with a a self-admitted "sue-first" company?

There are lessons to be learned from both sides.  First, don't make posts on public or social networking sites that are intended for a particular individual, especially when you are peeved at something or otherwise under emotional stress.  Public postings on social networking sites amplifies the dangers of bad e-mail decisions by several orders of magnitude.  Far too many people are either unaware of or forget to change their privacy settings so that only those users can see the post.  You might as well be shouting it to the Washington Post, New York Times, your adversary and their counsel.  There is some very good advice in the SFGate article cautioning posters about this.

Likewise, companies also need to be very mindful of their reactions and public responses to such incidents.  They often damage themselves in the public's eye far worse by how they responded to such a posting, than the original posting caused in the first place.  Sometimes lawsuits can be avoided, and sometimes they can't.  Regardless, it's important for businesses to avoid kneejerk responses that only serve to reinforce public opinion that they are the villains.  They may win the suit, but then can lose even more business in the process by generating additional reputational harm whether they realize it or not.  So which was the better business decision?

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery
Posted by Jeff Beard