Bob Latham recently penned a short commentary for U.K.-based Lawyer Monthly magazine on the topic of twibel, a newly-coined term that refers to defamatory statements made over Twitter. In the article, he discussed the idea of context in American defamation law and how it applies to twibel claims.
“It has always been appropriate for American courts to examine the context in which an allegedly libelous statement is made and how a reader would process that statement in that context,” Bob wrote. “As one American court put it in a case involving actor James Woods: ‘Twitter is a social media platform known for hyperbole and insult.’”
Accordingly, statements made on Twitter that would not be taken by the average reader to be factual are not actionable.
“This does not necessarily make Twitter the Wild, Wild West of social media, where absolutely anything goes.” Bob wrote. “But it does require a rational assessment of the context of the communication.”
Because context has been a long-standing consideration in American defamation law, Bob argues that interpreting “twibel” is not much different than interpreting libel claims involving traditional media.
“Statements made on the op-ed pages of newspapers were always viewed in a different context than a front page, factual news article,” Bob wrote. “Thus, attempting to find a remedy for every over-the-top tweet is as unnecessary as it is impractical.”