When Chicago-based Horizon Realty sued a former tenant for defamation because of a Twitter tweet, did anyone tell them how badly this could go for them? Seriously, that's some atrocious lawyering:
"Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay," Amanda Bonnen apparently wrote in her Twitter feed May 12 at 9:08 a.m.
Horizon Group Management, which leased Bonnen's Uptown apartment, wasn't pleased.
Last week the company filed suit against Bonnen in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming Bonnen "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet."
Regardless of the legal merits of the case, Horizon is "inviting a PR nightmare" and drawing scrutiny well beyond the 17 followers Bonnen's Twitter feed had before it was closed, said Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project.
OK, I think we can draw two important lessons from this:
First, Twitter feeds are public, and anything you tweet (or post on Facebook or on a blog or...you get it) is most likely "publishing" for the purposes of libel and defamation law. Further, if you actually libel or defame someone on a public website, you may be exposing yourself to suit not only where you live and where they live, but in any jurisdiction with a long-arm statute where people can access the Internet. (Lawyers: New York State is one, right?)
Worse, not every jurisdiction in the world follows the U.S. rule that it's up to the person claiming libel to prove both malice and dishonesty. In the U.K., for instance, because they have a "loser-pays" system, it puts the burden of showing that the alleged libel was actually true on the defendant. I commend to your attention the destruction of Oscar Wilde, who lost his libel suit and went to jail.
But that's not the main point. Libel in the U.S. is very hard to prove. Incompetence, however, is quite easy to prove, as when a company sues someone because they think the person made them look bad. The lawsuit makes them look positively reprehensible. Any lawyer who advises a client to proceed with this case is not helping her client. Any client who doesn't listen to his lawyer in this case is plain stupid. Look, the woman had 17 followers before last week; how many people are aware of the case now? 17,000? 17 million? What do you suppose Horizon's reputation looks like now?
More reasonably, it looks like they're suing this woman to punish her, knowing they have no hope of winning. I would not be surprised, if that's the case, if she counter-sues and wins on a claim of abusing the judicial process.
The bottom line: get over it.