Social Media And The Courts
Social media has given users a previously unheard-of venue for interaction, free speech expression, and discussion without an actual audience. This technology provides platforms for an unplanned, casual discussion with understanding listeners. As a result, it encourages a feeling of interconnectedness among users of social networks. Social media sites’ informality and spontaneity foster robot conversation, but some reckless speakers may face legal ramifications. The ideals of American society’s free speech, privacy, individuality, politeness, decency, and emotional security are at a crossroads because of technology. With these social network services (SNS), the conflicts between these values amplify proportionally. Social media users run the danger of being sued in civil court for various offenses, such as defamation, breach of privacy, sexting, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying. The Simorangkir v. Love case from 2009 is a prime example of the negative effects of reckless communication on social media. One of the many legal disputes involving social media is this one.
Facts of the Situation
The Simorangkir v. Love case is the initial slander action involving Twitter use. Courtney Love, a well-known actor, and singer, was implicated in this case. Dawn Simorangkir, a fashion designer, failed to turn some clothes pieces into designer outfits, leading to a bad contract that resulted in a lawsuit (Lidsky & Friedel, 2011; Phillips, 2010). The celebrity, however, chose to avoid compensating the designer since she believed the latter had fallen short of her expectations. Love used Twitter to exact revenge for her defeat, making things about the designer that he believed defamatory. He later filed a defamation lawsuit against the public figure. On MySpace and Etsy, she made the same claims. Love had an estimated 40,000 followers on Twitter and an undetermined number on MySpace and Etsy. In California, the designer filed a libel suit against the public figure.
The verdict in the case demonstrates the standards that courts apply when determining whether a statement qualifies as libel. According to the defense attorney, the defendant’s words forewarned the public about Simorangkir’s bad faith and dishonest business practices. The legal representative added that the celebrity behaved in the public’s best interest and that social media platforms are open to the general public. However, the court found that the matter was a private disagreement between the parties (Lidsky & Friedel, 2011). Additionally, it disproved the argument that her celebrity status made her words of public concern.
Given the nation’s commitment to free speech, the speaker cannot incur a legal obligation for expressing her opinion. However, the word “opinion” in law refers to assertions that are not provable or factual. According to the law, emotional truth exaggerations are not considered libel (Lidsky & Jones, 2016). In this instance, the defendant could not provide sufficient context to establish her tweet as hyperbole because her words were too brief to qualify. Additionally, the celebrity was known for generally exaggerated behavior (Lidsky & Friedel, 2011). She uses hyperbole in her tweets. Therefore, her Twitter followers are accustomed to it. She also had other tweets, some of which might have hinted to some of her followers at the nature of the dispute with the litigant. To establish the background for her claim that the designer was a hosebag thief, the court had to consider whether the disparate evidence should be integrated. Lidsky and Friedel (2011) contend that the celebrity’s claim that the plaintiff is a criminal shows that the former wrongly accused the latter, undermining her attempts to support her assertions as opinions. As a result, the case warns social media users about the dangers of running afoul of the law by venting their frustrations about someone else online.
Law on Defamation
The law in California divides defamation into libel and slander. The litigant must meet five requirements. To begin with, the communication must be fake. Second, it must be a factual assertion made in the open rather than an opinion (Zaller, 2015). Thirdly, a reference to the plaintiff must have been made in the statement. Fourth, the defendant had to have made the statement public to a third party. Fifth, the statement must have harmed the plaintiff (Zaller, 2015). Verbal defamation is slander, while defamation in writing is libel. According to California Civil Code section 45, the libel must cause the claimant to receive unfavorable treatment from others, such as contempt, ridicule, obloquy, being shunned or avoided, or having a detrimental impact on their business. For defamation, the law does not require proof of damages. Some forms of communication do away with the need for the litigant to demonstrate damages. The law demands that the allegedly defamatory statement be obvious rather than calling for an explanation of the context to make the meaning more clear.
Additionally, for a statement to qualify as libel, it must be published. Depending on the perpetrator’s malice and actions, the California Civil Code prescribes various damages. In situations when there is a loss of reputation, embarrassment, humiliation, or emotional injury, general damages are awarded. Special damages are those the parties to the dispute assert and can be substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt. Exemplary damages are more than the general and special damages the court ordered to dissuade potential offenders (Zaller, 2015). These laws influenced the court’s decision.
As a result of the court’s ruling in the plaintiff’s favor, the defendant was forced to pay the designer $430,000 in damages. Love decided to appeal the ruling after learning of it. The court of appeals, however, upheld the lower court’s judgment. I agree with the court’s ruling, in my opinion, because Love’s tweets explicitly implied that the designer was a thief and a bad person, which would have had a detrimental effect on her business. Furthermore, since the statements were not supported by evidence, they cannot be considered hyperboles. The defendant allowed her rage to control her. This reminds many social media users that venting on these platforms about a trade that does not go as planned might result in costly legal liabilities.
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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Pick a court case that involves social media and research it. Then answer the following questions:
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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