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Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 4:18:56 pm

Twitter Slander? #NotLikely

When Houston restaurant patron posted a tweet calling the nearby bartender a “twerp” and ending her message with a hashtagged vulgarity, she probably knew the note would raise a few eyebrows. But the last response she likely expected to receive was a phone call from the general manager asking her to leave immediately. Despite the knocks he has received for the decision, he says he refuses to allow his employees to be “bullied,” and did not hesitate in making that call.

The incident served to reignite the debate over what constitutes libel and slander in the digital era, an issue that Peter S. Vogel, co-chair of the Internet, eCommerce and Technology Industry team at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, says will be difficult to resolve.

“Applying legal standards to millions of tweets is extremely difficult since this communication phenomenon does not fit nicely into accepted legal standards of libel and slander,” says Vogel, who also serves as a Law of the Internet Adjunct Professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
The cybersmear litigation that has evolved at the courthouse limits liability if there is a “grain of truth” to the Internet statement and in this case, the patron’s tweet complaining about the bartender “appears that it might have that grain of truth,” says Vogel. “However, until actual cases are brought to court, it’s not clear that libel and slander will ever apply to tweets.”