Social Media Lawsuits: Another 2010 Trend?
Tweets appear to be a pretty powerful 140 characters in some areas these days. In fact, based on this story there may be a whole new slice of the legal industry that can be created. Imagine the TV ad at 2 am “Has someone tweeted something about you that isn’t true? Have you suffered damage to your life in general because of a Twitter user with a mean streak? The Law Offices of Twit, Tweet and Twote can help you get your good name back one character at a time.” I just got a shiver up my spine just thinking about that as reality but in this new world order you never know.
I bring this up because it appears that some people are not taking tweets lying down and taking legal action regarding comments. This is not the same as the imitator accounts suits that cropped up last year. This one (unfortunately) involves Kim Kardashian and a diet doctor (I am going to let you insert your own comments here because I don’t want to get sued but it’s so tempting).
The doctor behind the Cookie Diet has sued celebrity Kim Kardashian for allegedly defaming him in on Twitter.
The reality TV star allegedly tweeted in October that Dr. Sanford Siegal was “falsely promoting” that she was on the cookie diet. “Not true! I would never do this unhealthy diet! I do QuickTrim!,” she allegedly said via Twitter. “If this Dr. Siegal is lying about me being on this diet, what else are they lying about? Not cool!”
In a lawsuit filed last week in state court in Florida, Siegal alleges that these statements are false and defamatory. The diet doctor also alleges that Kardashian — who reportedly earns $10,000 per tweet as an endorser — was on QuickTrim’s payroll at the time.
This dust up occurred when the doctor linked to an article about his diet that claimed Ms. Kardashian was using his diet. A cease and desist ensued and the doctor took the link down. Here’s where the ‘pay per tweet’ issue takes center stage in light of recent FCC rules that have gone into effect.
Regardless of whether Siegal can prove libel, the allegations in the case highlight some of the issues the Federal Trade Commission aimed to address with its new blogger rules. The FTC’s new guides, which took effect Dec. 1 (after the alleged Kardashian tweets), state that bloggers should disclose all material connections between themselves and companies whose products they write about.
Kardashian allegedly touted QuickTrim while disparaging the Cookie Diet without disclosing that QuickTrim was paying her, according to Siegal’s lawsuit.
So what’s the law here? You have Kardashian allegedly making money on a tweet but not making note of it. Do the new disclosure rules apply to ‘micro-bloggers’ as well as bloggers? Was the doctor legally responsible for linking to a third party article that was believed to be untrue? Apparently there is no clarity around this because different government agencies may see each situation differently.
Some government agencies might view that link as an endorsement of the article’s content, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Center at Santa Clara. In late 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in proposed new guidance that companies could be liable for fraud if they link to material created by other publishers that contains false information — even though the federal Communications Decency Act says sites are immune from liability for material created by third parties.
Despite the SEC guidance, Goldman says it’s not at all clear that either courts or government agencies would view the links to news articles on CookieDiet.com as problematic. “We don’t know the answer to the simple question: Are you endorsing content by linking to it?”
So who will win on this one? We may never know. The laws and more importantly their enforcement are so new there is going to be some rough sledding ahead for some social media folks. These matters of law will take time to develop like all other Internet law has. With the economy still stumbling along and the litigious nature of our current society many might start looking for social media opportunities to hit the legal judgment lottery. As a result there may be a run on these kinds of things.
While it will be interesting to watch this may serve as a cautionary event for many in the new world order of the blogosphere and micro-blogsphere alike. Or it may turn out to be a non-event.