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Social Media And The Courts

Social Media And The Courts

Social Media And The Courts

Social media has provided an unprecedented platform for people to interact, express their free speech, and engage in debate without the audience’s physical presence. This technology offers venues for spontaneous, informal communication albeit sympathetic listeners. Thus, it promotes a sense of connectedness among members of social networks. Although the informality and spontaneity of social media platforms encourage robot discourse, they may have legal repercussions for some unwise speakers. The technology offers a crossroads for free speech, privacy, individual image, civility, dignity, and emotional security, constituting American society’s values. The conflicts of these values increase proportionately with these social network services (SNS). Social media users risk civil lawsuits for various violations, including defamation, invasion of privacy, sexting, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying. The case of Simorangkir v. Love 2009 highlights the consequences of careless speech on social media the speaker. This case is one of the numerous social media-related litigations.

Facts of the Case

 The Simorangkir v. Love case represents the first defamation lawsuit related to the use of Twitter. This case involved a celebrity, actor, and singer, Courtney Love. The litigation arose from a disastrous contract after a fashion designer, Dawn Simorangkir, failed to transform some clothing items into designer dresses (Lidsky & Friedel, 2011; Phillips, 2010). However, the celebrity declined to pay the designer because she felt the latter had not met her specifications. Love turned to Twitter to avenge her loss, posting statements regarding the designer, which he considered defamatory, and sued the celeb for defamation. She repeated the same statements on MySpace and Etsy. Love had a Twitter audience of about 40,000 and an unknown number on MySpace and Etsy. The designer sued the celebrity for defamation in California.

The trial outcome highlights the criteria the courts use to determine whether a statement constitutes libel. The defense attorney argued that the defendant’s statements warned the public about Simorangkir’s bad faith and unscrupulous dealings. The attorney argued further that social media platforms are public and that the celebrity acted in the public’s best interest. The court, however, determined that the issue represented a private dispute between the two parties (Lidsky & Friedel, 2011). Also, it rejected the claim that the statements were a substance of public interest because she was a celebrity.

Considering the country’s commitment to free speech, it follows that the speaker cannot accrue a legal liability for expressing her opinion. However, opinion is a legal term denoting nonverifiable or nonfactual statements. The law considers exaggerations of truths for emotional effect as not actionable as libel (Lidsky & Jones, 2016). In this case, the defendant’s statements could not pass as hyperbole because they consisted of a few characters, so she could not supply relevant context to set her tweet as a hyperbole. Besides, the celebrity was famous for exaggerated behaviors generally (Lidsky & Friedel, 2011). Thus, her followers on Twitter are used to her tweet containing hyperbole. She also had other tweets that may have indicated the content of the conflict with the litigant to some of her followers. However, it was up to the court to decide whether the separate should be combined to establish the context supporting her statement labeling the designer a hosebag thief. According to Lidsky and Friedel (2011), the celebrity’s accusation of the plaintiff as a criminal suggests that the former had accused the latter falsely, which confounds her efforts to substantiate her statements as opinions. Therefore, the case teaches social media users the risks of incurring legal liabilities for expressing their disappointments concerning another person on social media.

Defamation Law

 In California, the law classifies defamation into Libel and Slander. The litigant must satisfy five criteria. Firstly, the communication must be false communication. Secondly, it must be an unprivileged statement of fact rather than opinion (Zaller, 2015). Thirdly, the statement must have been made about the plaintiff. Fourthly, the defendant must have published the statement to a third party. Fifthly, the statement must have damaged the plaintiff (Zaller, 2015). Written defamation constitutes libel, whereas verbal one denotes slander. The libel must subject the claimant to the adverse treatment of others, including contempt, ridicule, obloquy, shunned, avoided, or negatively affect their business (California Civil Code section 45). The law does not require proof of damages for defamation per se. Some communication eliminates the necessity for the litigant to show damages. The law requires the alleged defamatory statement to be obvious as opposed to requiring an explanation of the context to clarify the meaning.

Moreover, the statement must be published to pass as libel. The California Civil Code specifies different damages depending on the malice and conduct of the perpetrator. General damages are issued in cases involving loss of reputation, shame, mortification, and injured emotions. Special damages involve what the litigants claim and have proven without reasonable doubt. Exemplary damages are those above the general and special damages the court imposed to deter potential perpetrators (Zaller, 2015). These laws guided the ruling of the court.

Conclusion

The court judged in favor of the plaintiff and ordered that the defendant pay the designer $430,000 for damages. The decision prompted Love to appeal the case. However, the court of appeals affirmed the decision of the lower court. In my opinion, I concur with the court’s decision because Love’s tweets outrightly indicated that the designer was a thief and an evil character, which could have had negative implications for her business. Besides, the statement does not pass as hyperboles because they were not proven truths. The defendant let her anger get the best of her. This case is a lesson for many social media users who like to vent their frustrations over a deal that does not go as expected, such that such behavior can result in legal liabilities, which are often costly.

References

Ashton v. Kentucky, 384 U.S. 195 (1966). California Code, Civil Code – CIV § 45

Chapter 5: Management and Social Well-being: Meaningful Work, relationship & Peace.

Jacob, H. (2018, May). Inside ‘iPhone City’ is the massive Chinese factory producing half of the world’s iPhones. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.mysanantonio.com/technology/businessinsider/article/Inside-iPhone-City-the-massive-Chinese-factory-12894408.php

Lidsky, L. B., & Friedel, D. C. (2011). Chapter Fifteen: Legal Pitfall of social media usage. In H.S. Aldeen & J.A. Hendricks (Eds.), Social media: Usage and impact (237-254). New York, NY: Lexington Books. pp. 237-254.

Lidsky, L.B., & Jones, R.A. (2016). Of reasonable readers and unreasonable Speakers: Libel law in a networked world. Retrieved from http://scholarship.ufl.edu/facultypub/

Phillips, R. (2010). Constitutional protection for non-media defendants: Should there be a distinction between you and Larry King? Campbell Law Review, 173 (1), 173-191.

Zaller, A. (2015). Five essential aspects of understanding defamation claims. California Employment Law Report. Retrieved from https://www.californiaemploymentlawreport.com/2015/09/five-essential-aspects-to-understand-about-defamation-claims/

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Question 


Pick a court case that involves social media and research it. Then answer the following questions:

Social Media And The Courts

Social Media And The Courts

What was the case about? Write a brief overview of the court case.
Which laws were considered broken? Describe which legal issues were brought into question.
Do you think the case violated any laws? Please explain why or why you did not agree with the court ruling.

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