Let me cut to the chase. You DO NOT want to be sued on Twitter.
Being sued already stinks enough. Trust me. I know all about this because I’m a lawyer and I sue people for a living (don’t hold it against me).
But being sued for a tweet is even worse.
First off, think of what your friends will say. “Hi John, have you seen Bill lately?” “No, he was drunk-tweeting so he got sued.” Imagine the harassment you’d experience at the hands of your buddies. I shudder to even think about it!
Second, imagine what your customers will say when they read about it online and the headline reads, “Drunk Twit Gets Sued For Tweets.” Think they’re going to hire you again? Probably not.
Worst of all, you could lose your privilege to Tweet under Twitter’s Terms of Service. And that would mean the end of world undoubtedly.
So how do you avoid this? I’m going to show you 10 basic ways to avoid being sued on Twitter. Now, most of this is common sense. But, as you know, “common sense is not so common.” -Voltaire. So let’s dive in.
1. Take Your Mother’s Advice
Remember when your mother told you not to say anything if you didn’t have anything nice to say. Well, (as usual) she was absolutely right! Say the wrong thing and you could be staring down the barrel of a defamation lawsuit. Do you want to get sued? I didn’t think so.
2. Avoid “Twitter Rage”/Blow Off Some Steam
I will be the first to admit that I’ve experienced what is known as “Twitter Rage.” This is what happens when I receive: (i) gobs of porno spam; (ii) block tweets (multiple tweets from the same person within a matter of seconds; and the ultra-nefarious (iii) auto-DM.
Sometimes I lash out at the offender with a particularly pointed public tweet. But in the majority of cases I’ll just block or un-follow the person and that’ll be enough to satisfy me. When the behavior is truly egregious, however, and I’ve had a really bad day (usually because of another lawyer) I find ways to blow off some steam.
I’ll usually go for a run or go to the gym and lift some weights. This typically does the trick. For you, it could be doing yoga or picking up the phone and calling a friend. Whatever it is, I highly recommend that you do something relaxing and totally unrelated to the tweet.
But if you insist on making negative comments about other people you should at least consider doing the following . . .
3. Send A Direct Message Instead of a Straight Tweet
Sending a direct message to the person instead of a public tweet is important for at least a couple of reasons. First, you may find that the person made a mistake. For example, I once chastised a person for sending 4 tweets in rapid-fire succession. I later learned that the person was using a third party application that went haywire. Boy was I glad that I sent that person a direct message and not a public tweet!
The second reason it’s important has to do with defamation law. You see, unless you communicate the message to a third person it will not be actionable as defamation. Lawyers call this “publication,” and it’s an indispensable element to a claim for defamation.
4. State Your Opinion Instead of a Factual Assertion
The First Amendment is a Twit’s best friend since it protects opinion. So all you have to do is tweet the magic words, “In my opinion . . . ” just before any statement, right? Wrong. What most people don’t know that is that an opinion can also get you in trouble for defamation if it implies a provably false assertion of fact. Basically, the court is going to look at all the circumstances surrounding the statement and then make a determination. So tread carefully here.
5. Don’t Use Your Name As Your Twitter Handle
The law values the right to anonymous speech. One of the best ways to remain anonymous on Twitter is to use an alias or a penname. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am NOT advocating that you engage in any shenanigans. All I’m saying is that if you are especially critical of a certain company or an individual, you may not want to use your name as your Twitter handle.
6. Check Your Sources
Factual assertions lead to lawsuits. Therefore, you must verify whether your factual assertions are accurate, if you are making any. And don’t rely on just any sources. Seek out credible and unbiased sources and keep a record of what you did to investigate the facts included in your tweet, if possible.
7. Lay Off The Booze
Not too long ago I thought I would be cool and tweet about my friend’s bachelor party. This could have lead to DISASTROUS results. Fortunately, a good friend persuaded me not to do it. Consequently, what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas. Bottom line: don’t drink and tweet (not even a glass of wine, it’s just not worth it).
8. Don’t Violate Copyright Laws
This is pretty simple. Just don’t do it. Twitter takes this very seriously. They even have a special email address an aggrieved copyright owner can use to contact Twitter: email@example.com
9. Don’t Violate Trademark Laws
Twitter reserves the right to “reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.” Did I mention you might get sued as well by the rightful owner of the trademark?
10. Don’t Impersonate Another Person
This is the fast track to a lawsuit, especially if you impersonate a celebrity. You will get sued if you do this. Again, just don’t do it. The worst part is that people usually do it for the “sake of comedy,” and it rarely ends up being funny. OK, the guy impersonating Shaq was pretty funny. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you are solely responsible for what you Tweet so be very careful.
I really enjoyed writing this article for you and I look forward to reading and responding to your comments.
Adrianos is licensed to practice law in California only. This blog post does not constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship. Happy tweeting!