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August 15, 2011


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They say it's bad form to start out a blog post by apologizing in this way, but here I go anyway: I've been so busy with work that I haven't been doing a very good job with the care and feeding of the blog. I hope someone is still out there reading. Tap-tap, is this on?

Robin Callender Smith

Tweets - while potentially defamatory - have always struck me as being more in the nature of slander than libel. As such, re-introduction of the old rules relating to proof of special damage would do a lot to curb mindless litigation in this area.
I accept this may be a particularly UK perspective.

Leslie Garfield

The issue of whether tweets are libel or slander is the topic of my forthcoming article, The Death of Slander. Tweets combine the evanescence and lack of contemplation that is characteristic of slander with the durability of form and wide-spread dissemination that mark libel. In the past courts charged with characterizing speech that was not contemplated at common law (e.g broadcast speech, Internet postings) have generally concluded that where the speech is capable of wide-spread dissemination, and therefore wide-spread harm, it should be called libel. The fact that the Johhny Gill tweet is now all over the blogosphere supports the capability of a single tweet to reach a thousands eyes.

Robin Callender Smith

Evanescent is the word that was at the back of my mind in my original comment.
Maybe the real key - even if Tweets are libel (as I accept they must be) - is the special damage read-across from slander. A Tweet read by five people is of a different scale than a Tweet which goes viral, as is a defamatory Tweet which is forwarded on by the victim/target to friends and followers (creating self-inflicted damage).
I look forward to reading The Death of Slander article.

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