Can You Sue Me If I Lie on Twitter?

Don't throw stones if you live in a glass house, goes the old saw. But in the days of Facebook and Twitter and blogs, the world is a glass box and the stones are flying, anyway. Courtney Love is being sued for libel after accusing a fashion designer of a cocaine addiction on Twitter. In Chicago an apartment resident who Tweeted a crack about moldy smells faces a $50,000 suit from the apartment's management company. Oh brave new world! That has such Tweeple in it!

This interesting CNN article explains how libel and privacy laws play catchup with technology that turns the Internet into a global gossip bulletin board where the line between cute carps and cruel libel is blurry, at best.  I especially love the legal jargon of the suit against the Chicago girl, which cites "the false and defamatory Tweet on Twitter, thereby allowing the Tweet to be distributed throughout the world." (God, that clause is starving for legal gravitas.)

To a certain extent, I'm not sure that Twitter presents the biggest challenge here. It's a written medium, like a newspaper or magazine or blog. It's not anonymous. It is public. If you damage somebody's reputation with knowing falsehood, you're going to get into trouble. Online publishers are not liable for all of their content (it's generally understood that Mark Zuckerberg is not legally responsible for the content of your Facebook status updates) but authors are. And anonymity isn't an invisibility cloak. After a model sued the blog "Skanks in NYC" for defamatory photo captions, a New York Supreme Court judge ordered Google to reveal the anonymous blogger's name.

The bottom line is that the Internet is a factually promiscuous medium because the barrier to entry is a registered user name and the barrier to publishing is a click. But that doesn't mean the law shouldn't hold the authors of public information to the same standards that it would if that information were published with ink instead of pixels.