According to the Pew Research Center, social media sites have skyrocketed in popularity over the last five years, with 73 percent of adults on at least one social media site. Despite the fact that these sites have helped many of us stay in contact with people far away, these same sites are often abused by people who spout spiteful rhetoric that often goes too far.
The internet is filled with snapshots of Twitter and Facebook comments that contain inappropriate, vulgar and insulting statements that might provoke a lawsuit if printed.
Many people seem to believe that for some reason Facebook and Twitter are designated safe zones where they can proclaim into cyberspace whatever they feel like saying without any consequences or repercussions.
We hear all the time in the news how crimes were prevented or solved because the suspect posted a statement proclaiming guilt via social media sites. Often these posts are used as evidence against the accused, since they are admissible in court.
However, up until Jan. 15, 2014, no Twitter feeds have ever been used to substantiate a case of libel and have gone to court. Singer/actress Courtney Love now represents the first person to be accused of libel on Twitter after she implied in a tweet that her lawyer had been bribed in an estate custody battle by the former managers of said estate.
Love stated on the witness stand that the internet is full of “hyperboles and exaggerations” and that this particular case is not clear enough to constitute defamation of character. It has not been uncommon for celebrities to throw digital insults at each other, such as the open letter to Miley Cyrus by Sinead O’Connor.
However, if Courtney Love is convicted of libel, the rules for what is acceptable to post will drastically change. A California attorney unaffiliated with the case said, “The Courtney Love case will set a precedent that will result in, potentially, the average person being liable as well.”
The phrase, ‘I didn’t mean anything by it. I was joking’ will no longer be a good enough excuse to prevent a lawsuit.
I expect that there will be more lawsuits that will make it to court since precedent has already been set. It seems that many people have forgotten the preschool wisdom to not call names in order to prevent pain for the recipient and punishment for the name-caller.
However, as we all grow up, the pain seems to remain the same, but the punishments get ever greater. It would be sad to see people who lose their home over an insulting Twitter comment, but based upon past performance, people will fall right into the harsh reality of the present.
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church.