Last week, Horizons Group Management, LLC filed a libel lawsuit against a Twitter user whom claimed their apartments contained mold. Specifically, the Twitter post stated “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.” Horizons is seeking damages in the amount of $50,000.00. They claim the Twitter post was malicious, false, and damaged the company’s reputation.
In order to determine whether Horizons Group Management has a valid legal claim against the Twitter user, there must be an analysis of what makes a statement defamatory or libel.
The law defines defamation as spoken (slander) or written (libel) words that are false and or misleading and gives the defamed a negative image and hurts their reputation. In addition, the defamatory statement must be made to someone other than the person subject to the defamation.
If the Twitter user can prove that at least one of the apartments managed by Horizons Group Management contains mold or has contained mold in the past, the Twitter post is not false or misleading. It is a factual or true statement and therefore not libel. The most important element of a defamation or libel claim is the statement has to be false or misleading. Statements that harm a reputation, but are true do not qualify as libel.
There have been other libel claims against Twitter users. Courtney Love is also being sued for making an alleged defamatory “tweet” about a famous designer. How does a user of Social Media avoid these types of claims? Here are a few tips on avoiding libel claims:
1. Users of social networking sites should avoid personal opinions or negative comments that are not 100% factual.
2. It is probably good practice to avoid making any statements that may harm a person’s image or reputation, regardless of their truthfulness. Who wants to go through the expense of defending a lawsuit?
3. The best advice I have ever received is “if you don’t have anything positive to say, then don’t say anything at all.” One negative comment could cost you tons of money and heartache.